The Prime Minister has refused to change funding rules which opponents say is depriving Wales of billions of pounds in rail investment stemming from a major high speed rail scheme in England.
Speaking ahead of the Welsh Conservative conference, Rishi Sunak said that the HS2 project “will bring benefits to the people in Wales, particularly those in Mid-Wales and North Wales.”
All four Welsh political parties - including the Conservatives - want HS2 to be reclassified as England-only because any spending on transport in England triggers extra funding for Wales, in this case an estimated £5bn.
However the project is designated as an England and Wales scheme even though none of the track will be laid here in Wales. Its planned route runs from London to Birmingham and on to Manchester.
This week in the Senedd, all four parties backed a Plaid Cymru motion calling for the scheme to be reclassified and Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies has made repeated calls for that to happen.
But Rishi Sunak rejected those calls, saying that “There's an established funding settlement for these things, but what I would say is I think HS2 will bring benefits to the people in Wales, particularly those in Mid-Wales and North Wales.
“When you look at the connections to places like Birmingham and Crewe, that will considerably reduce journey times to London.”
He added that “On top of that, the UK government is also investing around £350 million in rail improvements and infrastructure upgrades across Wales and additionally investing over £100 million in the South Wales metro and … one of the [Levelling Up Fund] projects that received the most amount of money anywhere in the entire UK, £50 million, was for the Cardiff Crossrail.”
The Prime Minister was speaking ahead of his party’s Welsh conference which is being held in Newport today and Saturday.
Polls show that support for the Conservatives has plummeted from a high point in 2019 when it achieved its best UK General Election results since 1983, winning Wrexham for the first time ever and succeeding in turning Ynys, Môn, Bridgend, Vale of Clwyd, Clwyd South and Delyn from red to blue.
However, the latest YouGov poll conducted for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University showed that if a UK General Election were to be held now the Conservatives would win just 20% of the vote here in Wales, compared to 49% of voters backing Labour.
Rishi Sunak said the answer to that is to be “working really hard on delivering on people's priorities.
“At the beginning of the year, I set out some very clear priorities. First one was to halve inflation, to grow the economy, to reduce debt, to cut waiting lists [in England] and to stop the boats. And that that's what I'm setting about doing.”
Meanwhile the Welsh Conservative leader will use his conference speech to accuse the Labour Welsh Government of focussing on “vanity projects” and “extreme ideology” rather than “the people’s priorities.”
He’s expected to say that “With every fibre of my body, I want the very best for Wales. I won’t stand by while out of touch Labour Ministers put their extreme ideology above the things that matter.
“It cannot be right that Labour are underfunding our Welsh NHS to pay for vanity projects like creating more politicians or refusing to have an independent Covid-19 inquiry, whilst paying millions for a talking shop on the constitution.
Welsh Conservatives are the only opposition Party in Wales making sure that the people’s priorities are our priorities.”