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Pressure mounts on Labour to promise Wales HS2 funding justice

21 Dec 2023 6 minute read
Keir Starmer photo Jacob King/ PA Wire

Martin Shipton

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.

Manchester

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.

Victimised

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.”

Loyalties 

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.”


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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
6 months ago

Jo Stephens is typical of non Plaid Welsh MPs in Westminster, they appear to do nothing to further the interests and well being of the people of Wales. I have to ask, whose interests do they represent? Their own maybe?

David
David
6 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

The Welsh MP who raised the subject on most occasions – 17 – WAS Jonathan Edwards, the former FORMER Plaid Cymru and now INDEPENDENT MP.

robin campbell
robin campbell
6 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

it’s about time we just see Labour as a Unionist party who take the people of Wales for granted

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
6 months ago

Yes, as electors we really need to keep up the pressure on our MPs, especially the Labour ones to ensure that Cymru gets its fair share of of Consequential Funding. What we do not need is for the Westminster Labour Government making decisions on what transport needs are in Cymru. The Tories are already trying to do that to try to tie Cymru to the western margins of England, a policy we need to resist if we are to have an Independent Cymru in the future.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
6 months ago

A test for any new Labour government. They must know that also refusing Wales what it’s due will make them better than the Tories and massively increase the independence movement. They may dismiss this threat but our younger population are more inclined towards self-determination, Labour will be storing up trouble for the future.

Wynford Jones
Wynford Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

Do you mean “no better than” ?

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
6 months ago
Reply to  Wynford Jones

yes – sorry ! lol!

Gareth
Gareth
6 months ago

Labour are a unionist party, and Labour MPs from Cymru will support the union over Cymru, and are willing to see us lose out to maintain the status quo, simple as that. Many a Labour MP in our recent past have referred to Plaid and indy supporters as ” separatist “, no better than a Tory, when it comes to the union.

Will Jones
Will Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Apart from Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru have done nothing about this. Have heard he is standing as an Independent at the next election. Good luck to him!

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago

The bill that designated HS2 as an “England and Wales project” was voted through by Welsh Labour MP’s. A betrayal of their voters and role. That alone should be enough for any independence supporting Labour member or voter to switch their support to Plaid Cymru.

Lord Custard
Lord Custard
6 months ago

Yes they should pay up. What’s the point in a funding formula if England can ditch it when the Tories feel like it ? Labour must repay the money to Wales.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
6 months ago

Talwch y tacla! And it should be towards a national north-south connection and not on electrifying the Caergybi to Chester line. Wales is owed millions in undesrpend on rail as it is, before we even start addressing the hs2 discrepancy.

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