Liz Truss is making an audacious bid for the votes of Northern Tories by promising a new rail scheme costing tens of billions – a project scrapped by her government just eight months ago.
Boris Johnson was accused of betrayal last November when he axed the planned high-speed connections across the Pennines, claiming they failed on “affordability and value for money”.
Now the Tory leadership race favourite – speaking ahead of the first hustings in Leeds – has vowed to reinstate the project if she wins the race to be the next prime minister.
Ms Truss argued the full Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme, running from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester and Bradford, would bring “growth and business investment” to the North.
“We will build the Northern Powerhouse Rail to link up communities and unlock potential across the North. That’s how we will bring better jobs to the North and address productivity,” she told Northern newspapers.
Mr Johnson’s proposals slashed the budget for Northern Powerhouse Rail by £24.9bn, replacing the original vision for a new line with upgrades to existing routes.
The foreign secretary has also stolen a march on her rival Rishi Sunak by grabbing the endorsement of the chair of the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs.
Jake Berry told the Yorkshire Post: “Liz is someone who gets things done, who has proved she can deliver and can be trusted to keep her promises.”
The backing is a blow to Mr Sunak, who is supported by the influential Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen and hoped to be seen as the candidate most committed to the “levelling up” promise.
Ms Truss’ backing for the “full fat” Pennine scheme was welcomed by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, the business-backed organisation campaigning for more powers and funding.
“The outgoing prime minister broke his promises to the north when he published the Integrated Rail Plan,” said Henri Murison, its chief executive.
“This would bring back government support for the original Northern Powerhouse vision of a single travel to work area across the Pennines, driving up productivity to secure growth for UK plc.
“Whoever becomes the next prime minister should build the new line from Manchester, connecting the airport, through to Bradford with services across to Leeds.”
At the hustings in Leeds, the candidates are likely to be tackled on the other rail scheme axed last November – the eastern leg of the HS2 high-speed project.
It is not set to run only from Birmingham to near Nottingham – with Leeds the biggest loser from the downgrade by losing the promise of faster journey times to London.