Trevor Phillips grilled Michael Gove on Sky News
Senior ministers - including Rishi Sunak - have repeatedly refused to say whether the next phase of the rail project, which would see the line run from Birmingham to Manchester, will still go ahead.
That has led to a wave of criticism from opposition politicians and business leaders, as well as sparking a fresh Tory civil war.
On Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News this morning, Gove, the levelling up secretary, once again failed to give any guarantees about the multi-billion pound project’s future.
Phillips pointed to criticism of the government by former prime minister Boris Johnson, who has insisted the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 must be built.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he said the Tories’ handling of HS2 is “frankly humiliating” compared to high-speed rail in China.
Phillips said: “Do you feel humiliated that you can’t seem to make a decision about this?”
Gove said: “No I don’t ... if you look at the way in which the Chinese government and the Chinese state allocate capital and run infrastructure projects, they are liable to massive cost over-runs and inefficiencies and that’s partly because their political system has bribery built into it and inefficiency built into it.”
But Phillips said: “If I’m in Shanghai I can get on a train, I cannot get on a train from Birmingham to Manchester at high speed.”
The minister insisted there were “spades in the ground at the moment” on HS2, but that the government needed to ensure the cost of it does not run out of control.
He said: “The costs of this project have been significantly greater than originally estimated, and as Conservatives we need to make sure we are getting value for money from every pound that the taxpayer gives us.”
Asked directly of the Birmingham to Manchester leg will happen, Gove said: “The prime minister, the chancellor and the transport secretary are looking at this issue now.
“I am a supporter of good transport links for the north, but it’s important to recognise that transport links in the north of England also have to be improved between cities and within cities.”
HS2 is important, but we do need to look at project cost, says @michaelgove - adding that Chancellor and Transport Secretary are looking at extending HS2 beyond Birmingham.#TrevorPhillipshttps://t.co/fhIHlpTGAF
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Gove also claimed that transport wasn’t the only way to improve life for people in the north.
He said: “Skills and education is important also, culture as well.”
But Phillips told him: “I understand what you’re doing Michael, but deflection doesn’t work here.”