Man cleared over burning Grenfell effigy model film

Grenfell effigy
Image caption The model was burned at a bonfire party in south London on 3 November 2018

A man who filmed a cardboard effigy of Grenfell Tower being burned on a bonfire has been cleared of posting “grossly offensive” material.

Prosecutors claimed footage recorded by Paul Bussetti at a London party was racist but the 47-year-old said it was a “joke” only shared between friends.

He was found not guilty after it was revealed a second video from the party had also been shared on WhatsApp.

Magistrates said they could not be sure the film was that taken by Mr Bussetti.

The prosecution’s handling of evidence in the case was described as “appalling” by Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot.

The clip of the cardboard building, which had “Grenfell Tower” written on it, was recorded at a party attended by about 30 people in south London on 3 November, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.

It was later uploaded to YouTube and sparked outrage, with a relative of one of the 72 people who died in the blaze on 14 June 2017 calling it “revolting”.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Paul Bussetti told the court he was not a racist

Mr Bussetti, of South Norwood, was accused of sending “grossly offensive” material via a public communications network.

He told magistrates the effigy had been created by his friend and the characters featured on the model were meant to represent “the majority of people that were at the party”, not people who died in the disaster.

One black-clad figure, who was referred to as “ninja”, was meant to represent his friend’s son who did martial arts, while his own image had been on the other side of the box, Mr Bussetti said.

The father-of-two said he shared the footage with about 20 people on two WhatsApp groups but he had never intended it to go further.

When prosecutor Philip Scott suggested he sent the footage because it was in keeping with other “highly racist” content he shared, Mr Bussetti replied that it was “just banter” and denied being racist.

‘Colossal bad taste’

Just before Ms Arbuthnot left court to consider her verdict at the end of the two-day trial, defence barrister Mark Summers QC revealed he had just been made aware of evidence that a second video was recorded.

He argued it meant there was “absolutely no way” to know which piece of footage had made its way onto YouTube and gone viral.

Clearing Mr Bussetti, Ms Arbuthnot said she could not be sure the video used in the case was taken by him.

She also said while it was “in colossal bad taste”, she could not be certain the figures on the tower were not Mr Bussetti and his friends.

The chief magistrate added she was “appalled at the disclosure in this case” with the last-minute evidence helping to avoid “a potential miscarriage of justice”.

A second charge of causing footage of a “menacing character” to be uploaded on YouTube against Mr Bussetti had earlier been dismissed.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-49435117

Brexit: Backstop indispensable, Macron tells Johnson

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Media captionBoris Johnson insists that with “energy and creativity” a Brexit deal can be struck

Boris Johnson has met Emmanuel Macron in Paris for Brexit talks, with the French president saying the UK’s vote to quit the EU must be respected.

But he added that the Ireland-Northern Ireland backstop plan was “indispensable” to preserving political stability and the single market.

The backstop, opposed by Mr Johnson, aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Mr Johnson said that with “energy and creativity we can find a way forward”.

On Wednesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the onus was on the UK to find a workable plan.

UK Prime Minister Mr Johnson insists the backstop must be ditched if a no-deal exit from the EU on 31 October is to be avoided.

He argues that it could leave the UK tied to the EU indefinitely, contrary to the result of the 2016 referendum, in which 52% of voters opted to leave.

But the EU has repeatedly said the withdrawal deal negotiated by former PM Theresa May, which includes the backstop, cannot be renegotiated.

However, it has previously said it would be willing to “improve” the political declaration – the document that sets out the UK’s future relationship with the EU.


What lies behind the friendly welcome?

The handshake between the PM and the president was warm and long-lasting. But it was the words that mattered.

President Macron said that, while he had been portrayed as the “hard boy” of the EU, he was simply being clear about where he stood.

He described the backstop both as an “indispensable guarantee” of “stability in Ireland” and the means of protecting the integrity of the European single market.

But the expectation that he’d refuse point-blank to renegotiate the Brexit deal didn’t materialise.

Instead, he simply warned that any withdrawal agreement that the two sides might reach in the next month wouldn’t be very different from the existing one. And he asked for more “visibility” from the UK on its alternative proposals.

It would seem that both Mr Macron and Angela Merkel are determined not to shut the door entirely in Boris Johnson’s face, and perhaps equally determined not to be blamed for no deal.


Speaking after he greeted Mr Johnson at Paris’s Elysee Palace, Mr Macron said he was “very confident” that the UK and EU would be able to find a solution within 30 days – a timetable suggested by Mrs Merkel – “if there is a good will on both sides”.

He said it would not be possible to find a new withdrawal agreement “very different from the existing one” within that time, but added that an answer could be reached “without reshuffling” the current deal.

Mr Macron also denied that he was the “hard boy in the band”, following suggestions that he would be tougher on the UK than his German counterpart.

Standing beside Mr Macron, Mr Johnson said he had been “powerfully encouraged” by his conversations with Mrs Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday.

He emphasised his desire for a deal with the EU but added that it was “vital for trust in politics” that the UK left the EU on 31 October.

He also said that “under no circumstances” would the UK put checks or controls on the Ireland-UK border.

The two leaders ate lunch, drank coffee and walked through the Elysee gardens together during their talks, which lasted just under two hours. Mr Johnson then left to fly back to the UK.

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn: French president “quite right” to say Irish backstop indispensable

If implemented, the backstop would see Northern Ireland staying aligned to some rules of the EU single market, should the UK and the EU not agree a trade deal after Brexit.

It would also see the UK stay in a single customs territory with the EU, and align with current and future EU rules on competition and state aid.

These arrangements would apply until both the EU and UK agreed they were no longer necessary.

Mrs Merkel has argued that the withdrawal agreement does not need to be reopened if a practical solution to the backstop crisis can be found.

Brexit is due to happen on 31 October, with no deal being the default option. The prime minister has said he wants to leave the EU with a deal, but that the UK would be ready if none is reached.

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Your guide to Brexit jargon

Mr Johnson will attend the G7 summit on Saturday in Biarritz, France, alongside other leaders including US President Donald Trump.

Asked about Mr Macron’s comments, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he agreed there should not be a hard border on the island of Ireland.

He described the Irish peace process as “an enormous step forward” which “cannot be negotiated away by Boris Johnson”.

Image copyright EPA
Image copyright Reuters

Mr Corbyn has cancelled a trip to Ghana, urging MPs to meet him next week to discuss ways to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

He has proposed that MPs should help him defeat the government in a no-confidence motion and install him as a caretaker prime minister.

If he wins the vote, he plans to delay Brexit, call a snap election and campaign for another referendum.

The Liberal Democrats, SNP, Change UK, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have agreed to the meeting with Mr Corbyn. But Conservative MP Dame Caroline Spelman and independent MP Nick Boles have said they will not attend.

Mr Boles, who quit the Conservatives in April over the party’s approach to Brexit, said the Labour leader should prioritise a change in the law to delay leaving the EU ahead of a no-confidence vote.

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Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49427007

Migration: UK cannot end freedom of movement on Brexit day, experts say

Passport checks at the UK border in Gatwick AirportImage copyright Getty Images

Migration experts say the UK cannot end freedom of movement from the EU on Brexit day because it has no system to work out who is legally in the country.

The Home Office said on 19 August that EU freedom of movement would end immediately in a no-deal Brexit.

But Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said employers will have no way to tell whether EU nationals have arrived after 31 October.

It comes as official figures show EU immigration at its lowest since 2013.

Under the existing system, EU nationals do not have to register their presence in the UK so the Home Office does not have records of when they arrived.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: “Even if the government knew exactly what it wanted the post-Brexit immigration system to look like, it wouldn’t be possible to implement it immediately after a no-deal Brexit.

“That’s because any new restrictions on EU migration can’t be enforced unless UK employers know which EU citizens have been here for years and which ones arrived post-Brexit and have to comply with the new immigration regime.”

The government’s only way to assess which EU citizens had a right to be in the UK would be through the settlement scheme, which closes in December 2020, the Migration Observatory team said.

The settlement scheme aims to register EU nationals in the country, but there is no obligation for all of them to take part.

As of July, only a third of the estimated 3.3 million UK-based EU citizens had applied, leaving more than two million unregistered.

The announcement that freedom of movement would end the day after Brexit “added to the growing uncertainty and unease” for businesses, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said.

Tom Hadley, the confederation’s policy and campaigns director, said: “It is hard to believe that government continues to leave businesses and EU citizens in the dark, with such little clarity on the biggest questions with just 10 weeks to go.”

A Home Office spokesman said it would set out details of changes to EU migration after Brexit “shortly” but encouraged EU citizens to apply to the settlement scheme.

“Free movement as it currently stands will end on 31 October when we leave the EU,” he said.

The warning on freedom of movement comes after the Office for National Statistics conceded that its key migration figures were no longer reliable and should now only be regarded as “experimental”.

What are the problems with the migration figures?

The ONS revealed on Wednesday that it had been underestimating EU arrivals and overestimating those from the rest of the world.

It now believes EU net migration – the difference between people arriving and leaving – was 16% higher (29,000) in 2015-16 than previously thought.

Net migration from outside the EU was 13% (25,000) lower, because more foreign students left than previously estimated.

The ONS has used additional data from the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions in an attempt to make the adjusted figures more reliable.

But statisticians have not yet adjusted the figures for EU immigration after 2016.

That is partly because EU citizens interviewed for the survey may not be sure if they are staying in Britain for at least 12 months – the cut-off point for inclusion in the data.

What do the latest migration figures say?

The ONS estimates that EU migration is now at its lowest level since 2013, with 200,000 EU citizens arriving in the year up to March 2019 – the original date for Brexit.

It says the main reason for the decline is that fewer people are arriving from the EU to work, with the numbers more than halving to 92,000 from their peak in 2016.

Ms Sumption at the Migration Observatory said: “The drop in the value of sterling has made working in the UK less lucrative than it once was, and continued uncertainty about the Brexit may also have played a role.”

More Central and Eastern Europeans are leaving than are arriving – causing a net fall in the numbers from eight countries, including Poland, of 7,000. That confirms a trend that began a year ago.

But the overall net migration total to the UK was 226,000 – which includes arrivals from all over the world and returning British citizens. That is more than 100,000 lower than the record figure in the year before the referendum.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49433027

GCSE results: Pass rates and top grades edge upwards

There has been a slight increase in the GCSE pass rate and the percentage of top grades this year, despite concerns about the difficulty of exams.

Image copyright PA Media

The pass rate edged up to 67.3% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – up 0.4 percentage points on last year.

The percentage of papers given a top grade (7 or A and above) rose 0.3 percentage points to 20.8% on 2018.

The rise comes as head teachers in England warned toughened GCSEs were demoralising some candidates.

More than 700,000 teenagers are receiving their GCSE results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, after a string of reforms to the exams system.

Exam boards and exam regulators make efforts to hold standards steady so as not to disadvantage pupil sitting new exams.

A new numerical grading system and tougher exams have been introduced in England, while elsewhere many GCSEs are still graded A* to G.

In England, 837 candidates got a clean sweep of 9s – the very top grade – in all their subjects.

However, head teachers have warned that some lower-attaining pupils have been so disillusioned they refused to sit the exams or even their mocks.

Why pass rates never change much

England’s exams regulator Ofqual and the exams board insist they are keeping standards the same over time through a system of comparable outcomes.

Exam boards do this by making adjustments to grade boundaries during the marking process, having married the difficulty of papers with the predicted ability of the group of students sitting the exams.

This means the percentages achieving different grades nationally never changes very much from year to year.

But where exams are perceived harder, the grade boundaries may be lowered. For example, on Pearson/Edexcel’s higher maths paper, the pass mark – (a 4 in England) – was just 22%.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the comparable outcomes system ensured that candidates were not treated unfairly by the raising of standards.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the heads’ union ASCL, said while the increased rigour may have been in the interest of the more able students, it had come at the expense of the more vulnerable ones.

He called for the exams to be tweaked to make them “less of an ordeal” and said a more “humane way” to assess the abilities of young people was required.

How hard are the GCSEs?

An illustration of how tough some of these exams were is shown by where grade boundaries were set for Pearson/Edexcel’s science papers.

In the chemistry paper, a pass was awarded at 22.5% while those getting a grade 9 could afford to get 20% of the paper wrong – as the very top grade was awarded at 80%.

In physics, the pass mark was 26.5% – and to get a 7 (formerly an A), 62% was required. Grade 9 candidates needed to get 77% of the paper correct.

While in French, for the same exam board, a pass was a score of 30% and a grade 9 was 81%.

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The National Education Union warned of the impact these tougher exams were having on student mental health and wellbeing, adding that many young people were left feeling “disillusioned, disengaged and stressed”.

And the National Association of Head Teachers said there was a risk the “general” element of the GCSE was being lost, which was a “disservice to all concerned”.

Other key facts

There were an estimated 5.2 million GCSE entries – up 50,000 on 2018, a 1.4% rise, reflecting a 1.5% rise in the 16 year-old population.

But entries in some subjects, notably those included in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) group now used as a school performance measure, are rising at a faster rate:

  • English: 4.4%
  • maths: 4.2%
  • double science: 4.8%
  • history: 7.1%
  • geography: 3.4%
  • modern languages: 3%
  • computer science: 7.2%

Art and design also saw an increase, of 9.5%, as other equivalent arts subjects declined.

The results also show:

  • Boys continue to do better than girls in maths
  • Boys continue to do better than girls in physics and chemistry but by less than in 2018
  • Girls continue to do better than boys in biology but by less than in 2018.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49421275

Libby Squire death: Man arrested on suspicion of murder

Libby SquireImage copyright Humberside Police
Image caption Libby Squire disappeared after leaving a Hull nightclub in February

A 25-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murdering Hull University student Libby Squire.

Her body was recovered from the Humber Estuary six weeks after she disappeared on 1 February following a night out.

Hundreds of police officers and members of the public were involved in an extensive search after 21-year-old Ms Squire was reported missing.

The man was arrested earlier and is being questioned by detectives, Humberside Police said.

“Libby’s family are being supported by specialist officers,” a spokesperson added.

Image copyright Humberside Police
Image caption Libby Squire’s mother Lisa had appealed for information about her missing daughter

Ms Squire was last seen at just after midnight near her home on Wellesley Avenue, Hull.

Later that morning she was reported missing and search specialists, dog handlers, underwater officers and the public began a search.

At one stage, about 200 students gathered in the rain as a show of solidarity and support for the student and her parents.

The body of the philosophy student, from High Wycombe, was recovered from the Humber Estuary on 20 March.

Appealing for information during the search, her mother Lisa said: “Libby, my darling pie, we just want to know that you are safe.”

In an emotional Facebook post following the discovery of her body, her mother said: “I cannot thank you enough my darling Pie for making me a mummy.”

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-49428783

Boy, 12, falls to death from apartment in Spain

Nicola Marshall and her son Lucas BriscoeImage copyright Family Handout/Mhari Oakes/PA Wire
Image caption Nicola Marshall said Lucas was “my life, my soul, my everything”

A boy has died after falling from the balcony of a Spanish apartment while on a holiday with his mum and a friend.

Lucas Briscoe, 12, from Lostock Gralam, Cheshire, was due to return home after a two-week break in the Costa Del Sol resort of Fuengirola when he fell on Tuesday afternoon.

His death is being treated as an accident.

“I can’t believe he’s gone. He was my world,” said his mum Nicola Marshall in tribute to her only son.

“Please grab your child and cuddle them today and tell them how much you love them because they’re precious and you never know when tomorrow will never come,” she added.

Lucas, a talented singer and rugby player, went to St Nicholas High School in Hartford, Northwich, and had been due to audition for TV talent show The Voice this weekend.

Image copyright Family Handout/Mhari Oakes/PA Wire
Image caption Lucas’s dad Gary Briscoe said his death will “leave a big hole in a lot of lives”

Lucas, his mum and his schoolfriend had been staying in a holiday apartment owned by Lucas’s father, and Ms Marshall’s ex-husband, Gary Briscoe.

“What should have been the final day of an amazing holiday ended up being the worst day of my life,” said Ms Marshall, who was in the kitchen preparing lunch when Lucas fell at 13:30 local time.

His friend witnessed him fall and has been left “devastated”, a family spokesperson said.

“We had the usual complaints over hoovering and cleaning…all the usual chaos before you go home,” Ms Marshall said.

“I lost my world, my everything, when Lucas went over the balcony. A fall, a jump, a slip, a moment of silliness, boyish behaviour, annoyed at his mum for nagging him over hoovering. I will never know.

“What I do know one million per cent is that if Lucas had truly known the repercussions of climbing over, he wouldn’t have wanted that. He wouldn’t have wanted to leave this world. Not yet.”

Mr Briscoe, who has flown out to Spain, said: “I am devastated. No-one expects to say goodbye to a child and not in circumstances like this. We are devastated at losing our precious, vibrant and loving son.

“Lucas was a memorable character – funny, outgoing, sociable – he is going to leave a big hole in a lot of lives.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was offering support to the family and is in contact with the Spanish police.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-49427504

Merkel: Backstop alternative ‘possible within 30 days’

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “We do need that backstop removed”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested an alternative to the Irish border backstop – a key Brexit sticking point – could be found within 30 days.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Berlin, she stressed it would be up to the UK to offer a workable plan.

The PM said he was “more than happy” with that “blistering timetable”.

He accepted the “onus” was on the UK, but said he believed there was “ample scope” for a new deal to be reached.

In his first overseas visit to a fellow leader, Mr Johnson is meeting Mrs Merkel after he told the EU the backstop – which aims to prevent a hard Irish border after Brexit – must be ditched if a no-deal exit was to be avoided.

He will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, before attending the G7 summit on Saturday alongside other leaders including US President Donald Trump.

The EU has repeatedly said the withdrawal deal negotiated by former PM Theresa May, which includes the backstop, cannot be renegotiated.

And – despite Mrs Merkel’s comments – that message was echoed by Mr Macron on Wednesday evening.

“Renegotiation of the terms currently proposed by the British is not an option that exists, and that has always been made clear by [EU] President Tusk,” he told reporters in Paris.

At the news conference, the German chancellor said a realistic alternative to the plan would require “absolute clarity” on the post-Brexit future relationship between the UK and the EU.

“The backstop has always been a fall-back option until this issue is solved,” she said.

“It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?”

Mr Johnson replied: “You rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas […] and that is what we want to do.

“You have set a very blistering timetable of 30 days – if I understood you correctly, I am more than happy with that,” he added.

He added that alternatives to the backstop had not been “actively proposed” under his predecessor Theresa May – but he was pressed by Mrs Merkel to spell out what such alternatives might look like.

The prime minister has insisted he wants the UK to leave the EU with a renegotiated withdrawal deal, but the UK must leave on 31 October “do or die”.

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Your guide to Brexit jargon

If implemented, the backstop would see Northern Ireland staying aligned to some rules of the EU single market, should the UK and the EU not agree a trade deal after Brexit.

It would also see the UK stay in a single customs territory with the EU, and align with current and future EU rules on competition and state aid.

These arrangements would apply until both the EU and UK agreed they were no longer necessary. Brexit supporters fear this could leave the UK tied to the EU indefinitely.

Mr Johnson called the backstop “anti-democratic” and “unviable”.

Should we be optimistic about the scope for a Brexit breakthrough after Angela Merkel suggested a solution to remove the need for the backstop could be found – possibly even within just 30 days?

Boris Johnson will certainly be pleased the German chancellor has left a door open.

But don’t get carried away. There’s a reason Europe is so adamant the backstop has to stay in the Brexit deal – it just doesn’t believe there is a workable alternative available right now.

Boris Johnson says it’s his job to find a solution and accepted a deadline of 30 days to come up with one.

The pressure is firmly on the UK to find that solution – and it’s going to be a huge challenge to put it mildly.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has cancelled a trip to Ghana later this week, urging opposition MPs to meet urgently to discuss ways to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has confirmed he would attend the meeting next Tuesday, but warned the Labour leader that “all options must be on the table”.

Mr Corbyn has proposed that in order to prevent a no-deal exit, opposition MPs should help him defeat the government in a no-confidence motion and install him as a caretaker PM.

If he wins the vote, he plans to delay Brexit, call a snap election and campaign for another referendum.

But the Liberal Democrats, and some potential Tory allies opposed to a no-deal exit, have indicated they won’t back a plan that leads to Mr Corbyn in No 10.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49427674

HS2: Review to examine costs and benefits of rail project

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Media captionHS2: How much work has already been done?

The government is launching a review of high-speed rail link HS2 – with a “go or no-go” decision by the end of the year, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

It will consider whether and how the project to connect London, the Midlands and northern England should proceed.

Billions have already been spent, but Mr Shapps refused to rule out scrapping it entirely.

He said it was “responsible” to see whether the benefits really “stack up”.

Phase 1 of the development between London and Birmingham is due to open at the end of 2026, with the second phase to Leeds and Manchester scheduled for completion by 2032-33.

It is designed to carry trains capable of travelling at 250mph.

When asked about the money already spent on the project, Mr Shapps said: “Just because you’ve spent a lot of money on something does not mean you should plough more and more money into it.”

He said ministers were asking the reviewers “just give us the facts”.

“Go and find out all the information that’s out there… genuinely what it would cost to complete this project, and then we’ll be in a much better position to make that decision – go or no-go by the end of the year.”

The review will be chaired by Douglas Oakervee, a civil engineer and former chair of HS2 Ltd.

HS2 railway.

HS2

HS2 in numbers

  • £55.6bn Existing budget

  • £32.7bnOriginal budget

  • £7.4bnAlready spent on the project

  • 9,000Jobs supported by the railway

  • 345 milesNew high-speed track

  • 50 minutesJourney time saving between London and Manchester

Source: HS2

Lord Berkeley, another civil engineer who worked on the construction of the Channel Tunnel, will act as his deputy. The Labour peer has previously been critical of the project.

A final report will be sent to the government in the autumn.

During the Conservative Party leadership campaign Boris Johnson said he would not scrap plans for the new rail link, but did express “anxieties about the business case”.

In July, the current chairman of the project reportedly warned that the total cost could rise by another £30bn – up from the current budget of £56bn.

Labour peer Lord Adonis, a former transport secretary who worked as an infrastructure adviser to Theresa May, said the review was “as stupid as you can get” and would “screw Birmingham and the North”.

He tweeted that it would become “a massive bun fight, while the transport department runs for cover and HS2 Ltd is paralysed by indecision”.

The review will look into:

  • cost estimates so far
  • opportunities for efficiency savings
  • the environmental impact, focusing specifically on net zero carbon commitment
  • whether the economic and business case made for HS2 is accurate
  • the added costs of cancelling the project or changing its scope, such as combining phases 1 and 2a (Birmingham to Crewe), reducing the speed or building only phase 1

What does HS2 mean for passengers?

Former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling argued that new rail links were needed to take pressure off a system which was “bursting at the seams”.

And in June this year, more than 20 business leaders urged the government to deliver HS2 in full, arguing it would “spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland”.

The Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, who will sit on the review panel, said HS2 was “vital” for the West Midlands and was “already creating jobs and building new homes”.

But Conservative MP Dame Cheryl Gillan, whose constituency HS2 will run through, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One its costs had risen “astronomically” and it was “now completely unviable in terms of value for money for the British taxpayer”.

In May, a committee of peers argued the project risked “short changing” the North of England.

Their report said the scheme put too much emphasis on cutting journey times and not enough on the economic impact on regions.

It also called for the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme – a separate scheme connecting towns and cities in the region – to be completed alongside HS2.

Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who supports HS2, complained that the review panel included two elected representatives from the West Midlands but none from the North.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said Labour supported investment in new rail capacity, adding that “improved governance of railway expansion is needed, not least over the HS2 project.”

One Conservative MP, Bob Seely suggested the “top half” of HS2 – the section covering the North of England – should be built, but not the Birmingham to London route, which he described as “a monumental white elephant”.

The key question is, is HS2 value for money? One former senior figure at the Treasury said to me recently that in terms of that it scores much lower than many other projects, so the government is taking quite a big risk putting so much money into it.

The government could cancel it – but, of course, the main caveat to that is the amount that has already been spent and would be lost. For all the opposition to it, HS2 also has a lot of passionate supporters too and they would be unhappy.

Rather than scrapping it altogether then, perhaps the more plausible option is altering the plans in some way.

Trust me though, even doing will not be straightforward for financial or legal reasons.

Joe Rukin, from the Stop HS2 campaign, said: “If this is a genuine review, they must stop work now, because irreparable damage is being done right now to unique habitats, ancient woodlands.”

He accused HS2 of “sending out possession orders like there is no tomorrow”, referring to the compulsory purchase of properties in the path of the line.

He also raised concerns that the review chairman, Mr Oakervee, was being given a chance to “mark his own homework” given his previous role on the project.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49420332