PM moves to switch focus from Brexit with Manchester-Leeds rail pledge

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek to shift the political focus from Brexit to domestic issues, with a keynote address that will pledge a new rail route between Manchester and Leeds.

Mr Johnson will use a speech in Manchester on Saturday to stress the need to improve transport, education and the fight against crime, after insisting he was not planning a snap general election.

The PM will give his backing to the trans-Pennine transport link which is intended to help “turbo charge” regional growth.

Mr Johnson is expected to say: “I want to be the PM who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did with Crossrail in London.

“And today I am going to deliver on my commitment to that vision with a pledge to fund the Leeds to Manchester route.

“It will be up to local people and us to come to an agreement on the exact proposal they want – but I have tasked officials to accelerate their work on these plans so that we are ready to do a deal in the autumn.”

Downing Street said that detailed plans regarding the proposed Manchester to Leeds rail route will be published in the autumn, following a review into HS2.

The trans-Pennine route is expected to cut journey times and provide additional capacity for people across the region.

Mr Johnson will use the speech to state he is committed to “rebalance power, growth and productivity across the UK”.

The PM will also use the address to pledge to “improve the unglamorous local services which people use every day”, such as buses, saying it is about “services within cities, not just services between cities”.

Mr Johnson is expected to say: “I want to help local leaders bring their local services in all our towns and cities up to the standards of the best.

“And I want that to start now, with improvements that can happen in the short term, not just big engineering schemes that will take years.”

Mr Johnson is set to promise to spend £2 billion on revitalising deprived towns, according to The Times.

The speech comes as Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees Mogg insisted the only way Tory rebels could block a potential no-deal Brexit on October 31 was to revoke Article 50 and keep the UK in the EU.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees Mogg (Aaron Chown/PA)
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees Mogg (Aaron Chown/PA)

He told the Daily Telegraph: “There is no way that Parliament can stop Brexit unless there is a vote of no confidence and there is a new government, or the law is changed, but how will the law be changed?

“All these people who witter on about no deal really don’t want to leave the European Union at all.

“It’s just code for saying they don’t want to leave and they think the referendum is a mistake.

“But they are not daring to put down a motion to revoke Article 50, are they?”

Referring to Tory rebels, Mr Rees Mogg said: “These are the only two ways Parliament could stop no deal – revoking Article 50 or bringing down the Government.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald was dismissive of the Manchester-Leeds rail pledge, stating: “This project has been announced time and time again by the Conservatives.

“With Boris Johnson’s staggering failure to build a bridge across the Thames and an estuary airport I’m not confident he’ll be able to deliver better train services between Leeds and Manchester.”

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