Labour Refuses to Commit to Northumberland A1 Dualling

Angela Rayner says Labour will not “overpromise” by committing to dual the A1 in Northumberland. The Labour deputy leader refused to commit a future Keir Starmer government to enacting the much-debated scheme to widen a stretch of the busy road between Morpeth and Ellingham. Two days after Rishi Sunak called the general election, the Tory government made a surprise announcement to grant final consent for the project after multiple delays previously.

Political opponents branded the timing of the pledge “desperate” and criticised the Conservatives for having failed to deliver on the A1 dualling during 14 years in office, though the prime minister insisted on a visit to Blyth last weekend that the dualling would go ahead if the Tories were to win the election on July 4.

Speaking on a visit to Hexham in Northumberland on Tuesday morning, Ms Rayner declined to make the same promise. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she was “not going to pretend” Labour would definitely deliver on the long-awaited A1 dualling scheme at this stage, without having undertaken a full assessment of the UK’s public finances.

Ms Rayner said: “I don’t believe what Rishi Sunak has said. They have had 14 years in government now and it is always jam tomorrow. It is terrible to try and promise something he knows he can’t deliver. He can’t say where the money is coming from and Labour won’t do that.

“When we get into government, if we are lucky enough to win the general election, we will look at the books and see where the priorities are. But if we have a Labour MP here I am pretty sure he is going to be going out there tapping on Rachel’s door making sure people in Hexham get their fare share of what they need for their local area. If the A1 is crucial to that I am pretty sure Joe [Morris, Labour’s Hexham candidate] is going to be pushing that.

“The important thing is that, like Keir has said, we will not overpromise. We are not going to go down that road. Rishi Sunak has had 14 years and he has failed the people of the North East. We will set out our programme for government and we will make sure we can deliver. We will look at each individual case when we get into government, but we cannot make that promise now and I am not going to pretend that we can.”

Ms Rayner had been on the Gateshead Quayside on Monday afternoon and then took the Labour battle bus to Hexham Auction Mart on Tuesday, visiting a seat where Labour are hoping to inflict a historic defeat on the Tories on July 4. Hexham has been held by the Conservatives for 100 years and has never had a Labour MP, but several polls have suggested that challenger Joe Morris could be on course to defeat incumbent Guy Opperman.

The section of the A1 earmarked for the dualling project will largely be in the neighbouring constituency of North Northumberland – where Labour also have hopes of overturning Tory minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s significant majority. A YouGov poll released on Monday put Ms Trevelyan and Labour’s David Smith neck and neck in that race, while also forecasting a 12-point win for Mr Morris in Hexham.

Speaking to The Newcastle Journal last Saturday, Mr Sunak said: “I said last year that we would make a decision on A1 dualling by June 5. That’s what we said and we’ve delivered on the commitment that we said. I made the announcement on HS2 and said we’d take every penny that we would have spent on that and reinvest it in transport across the North that people use more often and will see the benefits of quicker.

“The dualling of the A1 Morpeth to Ellingham stretch is an example of that. We said we’d make a decision by June 5 and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Ms Rayner told the LDRS that a Labour government would deliver economic stability after years of “chaos” and “waste” under Conservative rule, and “put the country before party and self interest”. Labour itself has been battling controversy in recent days over the future of Diane Abbott, an alleged purge of left wing candidates, and the imposition of key Starmer allies in safe seats.

Ms Rayner said that her party had a “high bar” for candidates and a “long tested” system for installing candidates in seats without one in the case of a snap election. After branding the Tories’ record on levelling up “a sham and a scam”, she added that Labour would focus on “getting the basics rights and getting back to doing things properly – making sure you can a GP appointment, making sure that public services work for the public, and getting our economy back on track”.

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