Boris Johnson defended himself against accusations of betraying the North after taking back rail promises for Yorkshire – by dismissing the criticism as “total rubbish”.
Whilst on a visit to North Yorkshire on Thursday, the prime minister insisted the Tories are “levelling up across the country” and giving people in the Midlands and the North commuter services at a similar standard to that of the South East.
But Channel 4 journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy challenged him by telling Johnson he is breaking his pledges on transport between Leeds and Manchester.
“You promised Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester and you were talking about speed, not capacity. Do you think people in the North are stupid?,” he asked.
Johnson told Guru-Murthy that he was talking “total rubbish” and that the government is “doubling capacity” between the two cities.
Upon being told he is in fact “cutting capacity on what it would have been”, Johnson quickly replied: “We’re trebling capacity between Liverpool and Manchester and of course, there are going to be people who always want everything at once.
“And there are lots of people who say, well look, what we should do is carve huge new railways through virgin territory, smashing through unspoilt countryside and villages and do it all at once.
“Now the problem with that is those extra high-speed lines take decades and they don’t deliver the commuter benefits that I’m talking about. We will eventually do them. I mean we’re building more than 100 miles.”
The journalist further pressed Johnson on “derailing levelling up” by breaking promises after ‘crashing the car on sleaze’.
But Johnson insisted: “Total rubbish, total rubbish, you’re talking total rubbish. This is the biggest investment in rail, in the history of the country, or at least for 100 years. And it’s a fantastic thing.”
Another broken manifesto promise?
The exchange comes after the Conservatives promised in their 2019 election manifesto that they would build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester.
And last year, Johnson gave the green light to HS2, so that a high-speed rail would be available to Leeds.
But new plans involve scrapping the eastern leg of HS2, reducing the Northern Powerhouse Rail and introducing an Integrated Rail Plan.
This means the NPR will mean improvements to existing rail, and HS2 trains from the East Midlands to Leeds will run on existing lines.
The new proposals have been heavily criticised, with Labour leader Keir Starmer saying Johnson “let down everybody in the North”.
Meanwhile, Huw Merriman, Conservative chairman of the Commons Transport Commitee, also accused the prime minister of not delivering on his promises.
“The prime minister promised that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail was not an either/or option and those in Leeds and Bradford may be forgiven for viewing it today as neither,” he said.
He added: “This is the danger in selling perpetual sunlight and leaving the others to explain the arrival of moonlight.”
Related: ‘Betrayal’: Angry reactions as government derails Northern HS2