HS2 rail project should be scrapped, voters tell Conservative leadership candidates

·4 min read
HS2
HS2

The HS2 rail project must be scrapped by the next prime minister, voters have said in a new poll that will put Conservative leadership candidates on notice.

Almost half of the public would like to see work on the £100 billion high speed line linking London to the Midlands and the north stopped, after costs spiralled out of control.

Only 17 per cent of those who backed the Conservatives at the last election think the highly controversial scheme should go ahead, compared with 52 per cent who now oppose it.

Suella Braverman, the Attorney General and leadership candidate, has previously suggested it should be halted, as has Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary who is yet to declare her bid.

The Foreign Secretary suggested that the project is a “white elephant”, whilst the Attorney General said ministers should ask themselves whether it is still “still value for money”.

Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt have been supportive of the project, whilst Tom Tugendhat voted for it in the House of Commons - as did potential contenders Penny Mordaunt and Nadhim Zahawi.

A survey of 1,500 people by Redfield and Wilton - 518 of whom voted Tory in 2019 - also found widespread support for reducing the tax burden on struggling families now, rather than focussing on balancing the books.

Just over half - 52 per cent - of those who voted Tory in 2019 favour tax cuts, compared with 37 per cent who think the priority should be keeping the budget deficit down.

There is even greater appetite for a reduction in levies amongst the wider public, with 56 per cent of Britons overall supportive of a reduction in levies.

The results will concern Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, who has pitched his leadership campaign against immediate tax cuts.

In a launch video posted on Twitter, he dismissed talk of such a thing as “comforting fairy tales” - remarks that were criticised by David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary.

Steve Baker, the Tory MP who is backing Mrs Braverman, also issued a warning over the former chancellor’s decision to “double down on the high tax position”.

But Liam Fox, the former defence secretary and a supporter of Mr Sunak, said it would be “irresponsible and immoral to spend money today and leave people tomorrow to pick up the bill”.

The polling also revealed a preference for a prime minister who voted Leave rather than Remain.

Conservative voters are three times more likely to select a Brexiteer - 60 per cent - compared with 19 per cent who would prefer a Remainer.

Across the general public, the gap narrows - with 42 per cent in favour of a Brexiteer, compared with 32 per cent for a Europhile.

Ms Truss, Mr Javid, Mr Tugendhat and Mr Hunt voted Remain, while Mr Sunak, Mrs Braverman, Ms Mordaunt and Mr Zahawi were all Leavers.

A clear majority of voters want the next government to take a “hard line” rather than a “sympathetic” approach to illegal migration, according to the survey.

Three-quarters of those who supported the Tories in 2019 favour a tough approach to Channel crossings.

Elsewhere, the polling shows both groups would prefer the winning candidate to have backed tough Covid restrictions, rather than arguing against lockdowns.

But there is a big split between Tory voters and the wider public over how to tackle the issue of ever-rising spending on the NHS.

Whilst 62 per cent of Conservative backers think the solution is structural reform of the NHS, the wider public narrowly favours pumping more money in by 47 per cent to 44 per cent.

Both groups narrowly see China as a greater threat to Britain’s interests than Russia - a fact which could favour Ms Truss, who has taken a hawkish stance towards Beijing.

There is also clear support within the general public and Tory ranks for the building of more nuclear power plants to increase Britain’s energy independence.

A spokesman for Redfield and Wilton said: “A majority of the British public and specifically 2019 Conservative voters want HS2 scrapped. Public opinion suggests this money would be better spent on tax cuts and supporting low and middle-income voters in the cost of living crisis.

"Conservative voters still want a prime minister who believes in Brexit and in its promises. They want someone to carry the torch of that political revolution, not smother its flames."