Pressure mounts on Labour to promise Wales HS2 funding justice
Pressure is mounting on UK Labour to redesignate the high speed rail route HS2 as an “England-only” project if the party wins next year’s general election – a decision that could see Wales benefit by billions of pounds.
The current Conservative UK government insists that HS2 is an “England and Wales” project, even though the entire route is confined to England. As a result, Wales is not entitled to any “Barnett consequential” funding under the formula used to finance the devolved administrations. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland are benefitting in this way.
Originally due to go as far as Manchester, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced at the Tory party conference in October that HS2 would only go as far as Birmingham. Had it gone all the way to Manchester, Wales would be entitled to an estimated £5bn in extra funding if it was accepted as an England-only route. Even with the money spent so far on developing the project, Wales would be entitled to more than £1bn in consequential funding.
Yet while even the Welsh Conservative group at the Senedd has backed consequential funding for Wales, the current UK Government has refused to change its position.
Now, with the likelihood that Labour will form the next Westminster government, attention is turning towards what an administration led by Sir Keir Starmer might decide to do about the matter.
The Welsh Government has consistently supported redesignating HS2 as an “England-only” project, but UK Labour has made no such commitment.
In the wake of Mr Sunak’s decision that HS2 would go no further north than Birmingham, Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens was asked whether an incoming Labour government at Westminster would change the project’s designation to “England-only”. All she would say was that a Labour UK government would “work out” Wales’ transport needs.
During a BBC interview she added: “It’s not our position as the opposition to be able to say what Barnett consequentials should be. We will work hand-in-hand with ministers in the Welsh government to work out what the needs for Wales are in terms of transport.
We will be putting the interests of the Welsh travelling public and people who travel cross border absolutely in first place.”
England only project
However, Counsel General Mick Antoniw acknowledged that the decision to cancel the Birmingham to Manchester phase of HS2 “makes the case even clearer that HS2 is an England only project” and that the Welsh Government was giving consideration to all options available to challenge the decision, “including legal avenues.”
But when challenged by Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth in the Senedd, First Minister Mark Drakeford refused to say that the Welsh Government would pursue a legal challenge against a Keir Starmer-led Labour administration at Westminster.
Mr ap Iorwerth said: “The Labour Party can’t have it both ways. They can’t say on one hand that the Conservative UK Government should pay Wales the compensation it’s owed as a result of HS2, and at the same time say a Labour government should be allowed to weigh up different spending priorities. And they can’t threaten potential legal action against the Tory government while refusing to commit to taking a Labour government to court on the same issue.”
Now a grassroots member of Welsh Labour has analysed the contributions in Parliament made by Welsh MPs about the HS2 issue and found that 12 of the 21 Welsh Labour MPs haven’t made any reference to HS2 Barnett consequentials.
The party member, who doesn’t want to be named because they fear being victimised, said: “This is such a big issue for Wales, with the Welsh Government having to make very heavy cuts because of underfunding from Westminster. While Wales is being starved of funds, the UK Government has reportedly offered £3.3bn to Northern Ireland as a bribe to get the DUP to resume its role in devolved government.
“Every Welsh MP should be making a fuss about how Wales is being robbed of huge amounts of consequential funding, but many Welsh Labour MPs don’t seem interested.”
When the party member accessed a search engine linked to the activity of MPs in the House of Commons, he found that 12 Welsh Labour MPs hadn’t mentioned the issue at all: Stephen Kinnock, Mark Tami, Nick Smith, Wayne David, Anna McMorrin, Stephen Doughty, Kevin Brennan, Tonia Antoniazzi, Chris Evans, Ruth Jones, Sir Chris Bryant and Nick Thomas-Symonds.
The Welsh MP who raised the subject on most occasions – 17 – was Jonathan Edwards, the former Plaid Cymru and now Independent MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. He said: “HS2 was from the outset a Labour project and the party’s MPs have been whipped to vote in favour of it at every stage. Even without the northern extension to Manchester, I estimate that Wales will lose out by between £2bn and £2.5bn in consequential payments it should be getting. So far neither Keir Starmer nor the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, have made any commitment to give Wales its just due if Labour forms the next government. It’s important to keep the pressure up.”
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts, the MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said: “Labour’s Welsh MPs show yet again that their loyalties lie with Keir Starmer not the people of Wales. Despite the Labour Welsh Government having long adopted Plaid Cymru’s position on HS2 funds, their Westminster counterparts seem content with starving Wales’s infrastructure of much-needed resources.
“It’s looking inevitable that Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister given the scale of the swing against the Tories in England. Labour MPs will not go to Westminster to demand what Wales is owed – they’ll be too busy maneuvering for ministerial positions.
“The only way we can raise the volume on fair funding is by ensuring more Plaid Cymru MPs are elected to Westminster – MPs who will always prioritise Wales and the Welsh economy rather than prioritising career interests.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.