Rishi Sunak has refused to guarantee that HS2 will ever connect Manchester and central London, saying he would not “speculate” on the future of the route.
The Prime Minister reportedly has been in talks with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt over concerns about the soaring costs of the major rail project.
It has been suggested, according to a leaked photograph published by The Independent, that the UK Government is considering scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester leg in a bid to save £35 billion, despite £2.3 billion having already been ploughed into stage two of the high-speed line.
Mr Sunak used a speech on Wednesday to announce he was weakening environmental commitments, saying it was the start of a “series of long-term decisions” designed to change the country’s direction.
Asked after his speech at No 10 whether HS2 would form part of those changes and whether he could commit to the line linking Euston and central Manchester, he said: “I’m not going to speculate on lots of the other things that people will be talking about.”
The Conservative Party leader’s response comes after one of his junior transport ministers, facing an urgent question in the Commons this week, refused to guarantee HS2 would reach Manchester.
Responding in Parliament for the Government, Richard Holden said only that ministers would “continue to update the House regularly on HS2” and that the Government remained “focused on its delivery”.
The planned railway is intended to link London, the Midlands and the North of England but has been plagued by delays and ballooning costs.
Ministers have already moved to pause parts of the project and even axed sections in the north.
The eastern leg to Leeds was binned in 2021 and it was confirmed in March that construction between Birmingham and Crewe would be delayed by two years and that services may not enter central London until the 2040s.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that work at Euston would be paused for two years as costs had ballooned to £4.8 billion compared with an initial budget of £2.6 billion.
The pause means Old Oak Common will be the railway’s only London station when services to and from Birmingham Curzon Street begin between 2029 and 2033.
Passengers travelling to and from central London will need to take Elizabeth line services to continue their journey into the heart of the capital.
Labour has accused the Tories of a “great rail betrayal” following speculation that the Manchester leg could be axed.
But party leader Sir Keir Starmer on Tuesday declined to commit to building HS2 in full if Mr Sunak does abandon the North West route.
During Monday’s urgent question on the future of HS2 to Manchester, a number of senior Conservatives repeated calls for the entire project to be scrapped.
But Andy Street, Tory Mayor of the West Midlands, said investment was being made in the region “on the promise” of the Birmingham to Manchester link being realised.
The former John Lewis boss told Sky News’ Politics Hub programme that HS2 was designed to “drive the economies” of the Midlands and the north of England.
“I’m a huge believer that this railway line is an investment probably for the next 100 years,” he said.
“We’ve already seen lots of investment across the West Midlands on the promise of this coming.
“Now of course we will still get our London Birmingham link, but we equally need the link between Birmingham and the northern cities as well.”