ED Balls dramatically ripped up Labour’s support for part of the HS2 high-speed rail project – insisting faster trans-Pennine routes must be built first.

The current plan – with priority for 225mph trains between London and Yorkshire – was “topsy-turvy”, he said, adding: “It has no economic or business logic at all.”

The Shadow Chancellor instead threw his weight behind yesterday’s (Wednesday) report by a committee of peers which argued faster routes across the North would deliver a bigger economic boost.

And he said: “Why would you decide to spend 20 years improving North-South links before finally – in the third phase – coming to East-West?

“It’s perverse and wrong and it’s not what people want in the North. It should be done before the second phase of HS2 - getting on with doing East-West now is a priority.

“That’s something we can get on with quickly while we ask big questions about the second phase of HS2.”

All three parties back the legislation to build and operate the first phase of HS2, between London and Birmingham, by 2026 – although Mr Balls said there was “no blank cheque”

A ‘Y-shaped’ network will deliver extra lines to Leeds and Manchester – with through trains cutting 32 minutes off the Darlington to London journey time - but not until 2033.

But last week’s Transport for the North report proposed a rail “revolution”, including 140mph trains on some trans-Pennine lines, but would cost tens of billions.

A faster Newcastle to Leeds route - taking just 50 minutes, instead of the current 87 minutes – would cost between £8.5bn and £14bn, for example.

It was these ideas that Mr Balls backed yesterday, which – if built first, at such huge cost - would inevitably push back the second phase of HS2 by many years.