Tory MPs have warned Boris Johnson he will face a huge backlash if he waters down the Government’s promises to bolster rail links between major cities in the north of England.
The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will publish the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan tomorrow, setting out major investment proposals.
But the eastern leg of the HS2 high speed rail route between Birmingham and Leeds is expected to be axed.
Meanwhile, there is frustration that plans to boost east-west rail connections across the region, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), will likely involve improvements to existing infrastructure rather than a new line between Manchester and Leeds.
Downing Street has insisted improving rail links in the north of England is an ‘absolute priority’ for Mr Johnson amid mounting anger at the prospect of the Government backtracking on past pledges.
Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister and now the chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said this morning that the PM had made a ‘personal commitment’ to deliver for the north of England.
Mr Berry said ‘commitments made by prime ministers matter’ as he appeared to fire a warning shot at the premier.
Tory MPs have warned Boris Johnson he will face a huge backlash if he waters down the Government’s promises to bolster rail links between major cities in the north of England
Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister and now the chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said this morning that the PM had made a ‘personal commitment’ to deliver for the north of England
The Prime Minister is facing anger from Tory Red Wall MPs who fear a hammering at the ballot box if the Government weakens commitments made to the region.
Mr Johnson pledged his ‘commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail’ shortly after entering Downing Street in 2019.
The 2019 Tory manifesto stated that ‘we will build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle’.
Mr Johnson repeated the pledge in his Conservative Party conference speech this year, telling Tory activists: ‘We will do Northern Powerhouse rail. We will link up the cities of the Midlands and the north.’
Mr Berry told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he had been personally reassured by the PM that the Government’s rail plans will deliver on past commitments.
He said: ‘Well, the truth is we haven’t seen the Government’s integrated rail strategy yet but I don’t think people need to worry actually because I have been in touch with the Prime Minister about this.
‘He has reassured me that the integrated rail strategy is going to be quote ‘fantastic for the North’.
‘And of course in July 2019 he was a Prime Minister who stood in Manchester and personally committed to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail.
‘That was a commitment repeated in our November manifesto at the last general election and of course a commitment repeated at the Conservative Party conference.
‘I think commitments made by prime ministers matter, both to the public and to colleagues in Parliament.
‘We haven’t seen this review yet but I and my colleagues across the North are reassured by that personal commitment given to us by the Prime Minister.’
Mr Berry was told that he appeared to be warning the PM to stick to his word.
He replied: ‘I think the Prime Minister will be a paragon of virtue in this regard. It is all very well to talk about what is reported but in politics you can’t get better than a prime ministerial commitment to the project.
‘But let’s be really clear. Colleagues are very focused on east west connectivity. If you live and work in the north of England… it is frankly the most important thing for driving our economy.
The Government is expected to axe its plans for the eastern branch of HS2 which would link Birmingham and Leeds. The link from Birmingham to Manchester is expected to go ahead
‘What we want to see is a high speed rail connectivity across the north delivered in a timely manner and at good value for taxpayers.
‘Beyond that I think colleagues sort of don’t really mind how it is done, they just want to see it is done.
‘Let’s give the Government credit. We have this personal commitment from the Prime Minister and I believe on Thursday that will be a commitment he will deliver on.’
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said yesterday: ‘Grant Shapps will set out the full details on Thursday. But we are fully committed to strengthening the rail links in our cities, across the Midlands and the North.
‘He recognises the importance of improving journey times across the country.’
Asked whether the plans had been scaled back due to Treasury opposition to the cost, the spokesman said: ‘These are ambitious plans which will involve significant sums of public money.’