Rishi Sunak made a series of key announcements at the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester as he set out proposals to spark major changes in the country. The Prime Minister was introduced on stage by his wife, Akshata Murty, as he made a series of announcements about his future plans for reform.
Sunak told hundreds of party members that he’s not afraid to make big decisions that will deliver “long-term success” rather than “short-term advantage.” Rishi Sunak tried to pitch himself as the change candidate, in that his mission is to fundamentally change our country, adding: “If this country is to change, then it can only be us who will deliver it. Change only endures if we bring people with us.” The Conservative leader tried to distance himself from 13 years of Tory government by scrapping a flagship policy backed by his predecessors. “I will tell it as it is,” Sunak told assembled Conservative activists. “I will lead in a different way, because that is the only way to create the sort of change in our politics and in our country that we all desperately want to see.”
One of the biggest announcements made by the Prime minister was the confirmation to axe the northern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, saying that the cost of the high-speed rail scheme had “more than doubled” and that “the facts have changed”. The promised high-speed rail line connecting London to northern cities was announced by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013. Once billed as Europe’s largest infrastructure project, HS2 was meant to slash journey times and increase capacity between London, the central England city of Birmingham and the northern cities of Manchester and Leeds with 250 mph (400 kph) state-of-the-art trains.
Its cost was estimated at 33 billion pounds in 2011 but this has soared to more than 100 billion pounds ($122 billion) by some estimates. The Manchester-Leeds leg was lopped off by the Conservative government in 2021, and the high-speed line will now end at Birmingham. Rishi Sunak said this change would free £36 billion which will be used to fund other transport schemes in the country, including trams, buses rail and roads. He told the conference: “I am ending this long-running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project and in its place, we will reinvest every single penny, £36 billion in hundreds of new transport projects in the north and the midlands, across the country. This means £36 billion of investment in the project that will make a real difference across our nation.”
The Prime Minister added: “We’ll build the Midlands Rail Hub connecting 50 different stations, we will help Andy Street extend the West Midlands Metro, we will build the Leeds tram, we will electrify the North Wales mainline, upgrade A1, the A2, the A5, the M6. We will connect our union with the A75, boosting links between Scotland and Northern Ireland.” Rishi Sunak also proposed to scrap A levels, merging A-levels with T-levels into a new advanced British standard qualification. The proposal states that students must study maths and English until 18 and take about five subjects. “This will finally deliver on the promise of parity of esteem between academic and technical education,” Sunak said.
The Prime Minister also proposed to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco by one year every year, so that 14-year-olds today will never be able to buy them legally. New Zealand is the only other country in the world to attempt this. “When we raised the smoking age to 18, smoking prevalence dropped by 30% in that age group,” the PM said. “Smoking places huge pressures on the NHS and costs our country £17bn a year. We have a chance to cut cancer deaths by a quarter, significantly ease those pressures and protect our children, and we should take it,” he added. He also outlined plans to “clamp down” on vaping, in what he described as “one of the most worrying trends” among children. Sunak told the conference that one in five children have used vapes, a statistic he described as “shocking and wrong”.