Clegg’s rail plan ‘dealbreaker’

Artist's impression of HS2 rail line
Artist's impression of HS2 rail line
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Sheffield MP Nick Clegg has said he will push for Labour to commit to high speed rail – as a condition of the Lib Dems working with the party after 2015.

The Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister said that support for the high speed rail link between London and the north would be a ‘red line’ in any coalition discussions with Labour at the next election.

Mr Clegg insisted he would not compromise on support for the controversial HS2 route if a final decision on the scheme falls after the 2015 vote.

Labour’s support for the £43bn HS2 project has cooled in recent months and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has repeatedly insisted there can be no ‘blank cheque’.

MPs will vote tomorrow on a bill to allow government to spend money planning the route in detail but the project faces many more parliamentary hurdles before work can begin as planned in 2017.

Asked if he would ever compromise on HS2 in a future government, Mr Clegg told reporters at Westminster: “No. I was up in Sheffield yesterday talking to business leaders and they are absolutely appalled at the way in which Labour appears to be betraying the north.

“It just beggars belief for a party that constantly parades itself as the authentic voice of the north of England is now prepared to turn its back on the businesses, the communities, the families which I think all the evidence shows will benefit disproportionately from an investment in a high speed north-south railway link.

“I just think it is miserable, it’s pathetic that an idea which we inherited from Labour and in all good faith took forward because we thought, given they were the architects of the idea they might support it, that when it becomes politically convenient to play games with it, they start playing games with it.

He added: “I say this obviously with some real fervour because I can see myself that it would just make a dramatic difference to investment in Sheffield and South Yorkshire.”