Rishi Sunak hails Ben Houchen's victory as Tees Valley Mayor 'they couldn't dislodge'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made an appearance on Teesside to hail Ben Houchen's third election victory as Tees Valley Mayor.

Mr Sunak and Lord Houchen exchanged thanks and congratulations after the Conservative metro mayor secured a third term with 54% of the vote, a reduced majority, against 43% for Labour's Chris McEwan. The result was announced at Thornaby Pavilion just before midday on Friday.

Hours later, Conservative MPs and councillors assembled in a hangar at Teesside International Airport to welcome the mayor and Prime Minister. Mr Houchen said "I absolutely promise to repay" people's support while, on a day of numerous defeats for the Tories in local elections, Mr Sunak claimed the mayor's success meant the public were "going to stick with us" in a general election.

Mr Houchen said: "The election today, absolutely fantastic. I am just so, so relieved, humbled, proud to get a third term as the Tees Valley Mayor, as a place where I was born, grown up, lived all my life, have such fantastic friends and family. And again, just really proud to be able to continue with the progress that we've made over the last seven years.

"The plan is still underway. There's still a lot more to do, there's still a lot of progress that needs to be done.

"To get four more years to implement that plan I think is just absolutely wonderful. I just hope to be able to make as much progress as we have over the first seven years. There's a huge weight of responsibility that comes with that as well.

"We've got the backing of people right across the region when people thought we weren't going to win. We've had the Labour Party camped here for the last two weeks, the whole Shadow Cabinet have basically funded the tourism industry in Teesside for the last two weeks because they thought they were going to win it. But they were nowhere near in the end.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Teesside International Airport.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Teesside International Airport. -Credit:Gareth Lightfoot

"I just want to say thank you so much to everybody that backed me across this region. This is a vote for you, this is a vote for Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool and I absolutely promise to repay you.

"But at the same time it's also about this man next to me, because I could not have delivered the things that we've delivered in this region with you, Prime Minister. Whether it's the Freeport in Redcar, whether it's bringing the Treasury and Darlington Economic Campus to Darlington, creating hundreds and hundreds of jobs, it's going to be 2,000 in a couple of years, 9,000 jobs created on the Freeport, unemployment of 5.4% since I was elected in 2017.

"Teesside wouldn't have had those things if it wasn't for the contribution you've made, Prime Minister. So thank you very much for everything you've done as well, and here's to four more years," he concluded to applause and cheers from supporters.

Mr Sunak said: "It's absolutely great to be here with your re-elected mayor of Teesside. The Labour Party threw absolutely everything at this election - Keir Starmer came here twice, Rachel Reeves came here three times, but even they couldn't dislodge Ben and the fantastic Conservative team.

'Levelling up in action'

"They were angry, angry that Ben has delivered more for this region in seven years than the Labour Party managed in 30 years. Look where we're standing - when Ben came into the office this airport was going to be closed down, and now more flights to more places than ever before.

"The steelworks, desolate, now part of the one of the most exciting regeneration projects anywhere in the world. You and I, we've worked together on some great things, made sure that the Treasury is in Darlington, putting this region at the heart of government.

"The Freeport, the largest in Europe, attracting thousands of jobs and investment to the area. Now that is levelling up in action, that is what you get with Ben taking bold decisions for this region, that is the Conservatives delivering.

"And I've got a message for the Labour Party too, because they know they had to win here in order to win a general election. They assumed that Tees Valley would just stroll back to them, but it didn't.

"People knew that they couldn't be taken for granted, they knew it was Ben and the Conservatives that delivered for them and they stuck with you in this election. And I know that come a general election, they're going to stick with us too.

"They know that it's you and it's the Conservatives that are building a brighter future for Teesside and a brighter future for Britain. Congratulations."

The pair shook hands and Mr Sunak took a short time to speak to supporters, saying "thank you for everything you guys have done" before leaving the hangar in a event lasting a few minutes. No opportunities were given for the media to ask questions.