Northern Rail lines were seen as “valueless” and ministers were warned of the looming rail chaos passengers would face as long as two years ago, startling leaked emails are said to reveal.
Labour MP Lisa Nandy called Department of Transport (DfT) staff exchanges she had obtained “a disgrace” during a tense stand-off with Theresa May over the issue in the Commons on Wednesday.
Brandishing the leaked documents during Prime Minister’s Questions, the Wigan MP said the emails proved ministers were warned of the slew of cancellations and delays northern passengers have faced over the last month.
It comes as it was revealed that misery on Northern Rail and Govia Thameslink services could continue until November, with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling maintaining his position that train bosses and Network Rail had not done enough to prepare.
Nandy said passengers had “had enough” and told the PM: “I have been handed emails from within the Department for Transport that show that ministers and officials were warned of impending chaos as long ago as two years ago.
“These emails are a disgrace. In them, officials describe key northern routes as valueless, discuss classic handling strategies for members of parliament, discuss whether to throw a sop to northern passenger groups and debate whether to propagate myths in order to divert public attention from agreed, planned route closures.
“Will the Prime Minister explain to this House, why she has withheld this key information from us and from the public, or is she so incompetent that she literally has not got a clue what is going on in her own government?”
May refused to respond directly to Nandy’s claims and attempted to put distance between ministers and the emails by highlighting an independent panel had been set up to advise government.
“No government responds across the despatch box to leaked documents that they have not seen,” she said.
“Can I also say to the Rt Hon Lady that the timetable changes at both Northern (Rail) and Govia (Thames Valley) in May, there was a separate panel set up by the DfT to reassure the DfT about the nature of those plans.
“The Rt Hon Lady may shake her head but that independent panel was set up and that panel did advise the DfT.”