BORIS Johnson has been branded “cowardly” after quietly scrapping a £3 billion high-speed rail link to Scotland.

The announcement – made on Monday just 30 minutes before the result of a no-confidence vote on the Prime Minister was announced – confirms the UK Government is abandoning plans which would have connected Scotland with the HS2 project.

Ministers are axing the 13-mile Golborne Link in Greater Manchester. The link will be removed from the HS2 Phase 2b Bill despite it being included in the Integrated Rail Plan for transforming the rail network in the North and the Midlands, as well as creating more capacity and cutting journey times to Glasgow.

The key link would have left the high-speed line between Crewe and Manchester and cut through Trafford to join the West Coast Main Line to the south of Wigan.

HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said the UK Government will explore alternatives for how HS2 trains will reach Scotland.

The Golborne Link would have cut through the constituency of 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, who was overseeing the no-confidence ballot as the announcement was made on Monday. He and other MPs in the region have long campaigned for the plans to be scrapped and for the Government to consider alternative routes.

The SNP’s shadow transport secretary, Gavin Newlands, condemned the timing of the announcement and referenced other high-profile instances of the Tory administration pulling out of infrastructure projects in Scotland.

He said: "This sleekit move sums up Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister – cowardly and shameful. His decision to announce this crucial cut on the same day as his vote of no confidence – knowing full well it would fall off the radar – is despicable.

"The original investment would have drastically improved Scotland’s rail links with the north west of England, but yet again this Westminster government is tearing it apart.

“Whether it’s promising to improve rail links in Scotland, building a multi-billion-pound bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland, or investing £1 billion in carbon capture in the north east – nothing that comes out of Boris Johnson’s mouth can be trusted.”

The announcement comes six months after the UK Government dropped its plan to extend HS2 to Leeds.

Construction on the Golborne Link was due to start in the early 2030s, with the connection expected to open towards the end of that decade or in the early 2040s.

Rail industry bodies also reacted with fury to the decision.

In a joint statement, the Railway Industry Association, Rail Freight Group and High Speed Rail Group said: “It is hugely disappointing to discover that, on a day when much political attention was focused elsewhere, the Government confirmed that the Golborne Link is to be removed from the HS2 project.

“Only six months ago, the Golborne Link was included in the Integrated Rail Plan, as well as the HS2 Phase 2b Bill.

“The link has been provided for in the budget for HS2 and is needed to allow adequate capacity on the national rail network to fulfil its vital function of handling the nation’s longer distance movements of both passengers and freight.

“Without this connection, a bottleneck will be created north of Crewe on the West Coast Main Line, which in turn will negatively impact outcomes for passengers, decarbonisation and levelling up.”

The trio warned of “heightened uncertainty” for rail businesses working on HS2 and communities living near the planned line.

They went on: “Given the Government has now decided that it does not wish to proceed with the Golborne Link, it is absolutely essential it confirms as quickly as possible how ministers intend to protect the benefits of HS2 investment, and does so without delay.

“Such an important, strategic question of how HS2 services connect into Scotland cannot be left open or uncertain.”

Plans for the Golborne Link faced fierce criticism from MPs, councillors and local residents.

The Government-commissioned Union Connectivity Review, published in November 2021, said “emerging evidence” suggested an alternative connection between HS2 and the West Coast Main Line “could offer more benefits” and “reduce journey times by two to three minutes”.

Stephenson said: “HS2 is a once-in-a-lifetime project that will transform travel across the entire UK as we know it and serve millions of people for hundreds of years to come, and it’s absolutely vital that we get this right from the outset.

“Removing this link is about ensuring that we’ve left no stone unturned when it comes to working with our Scottish counterparts to find a solution that will best serve the great people of Scotland.”

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Boris Johnson resisted calls to scrap the HS2 project entirely.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Esther McVey, a vocal critic of HS2, said scrapping the project would save “tens of billions of pounds” from a budget that is “spiralling out of control”. She asked the Tory leader to scrap the “inflated white elephant”.

Johnson replied: “In case she missed what else I said, we are cutting taxes for everybody who pays national insurance contributions by an average of £330, just next month.

“And as for HS2, actually what it will do is deliver a long-term growth and prosperity for the whole of the country, uniting and levelling up, deliver more revenues and put us in a better position to cut taxes in the future.”