Rishi Sunak visits East Midlands - but all was not as it seemed

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak answers questions on his first official General Election campaign visit - he is surrounded by people wearing high-vis jackets at West Transport
-Credit: (Image: Derby Telegraph)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chose a factory near Ilkeston as his first place to visit after announcing 16 hours earlier that the general election would be on July 4 - but it seems that part of his visit to West Transport in Stanton by Dale was not quite as it seemed.

Mr Sunak visited the distribution centre in Lows Lane and held a Q&A session with what appeared to be workers from the company, all wearing hi-vis vests sporting the name West Transport and seated and standing in a semi-circle. The Prime Minister received a vigorous round of applause and stood in the middle, inviting questions from the people gathered and taking a series of questions on the NHS, climate change, his strategies for coping with stress, schools, welfare reform and immigration.

But instead of being asked by a worker, the question on immigration was asked by Ross Hills, a Conservative Leicestershire councillor in a high-vis vest, who asked if Mr Sunak's immigration plan was going to see results. This gave Mr Sunak an opportunity to repeat what he had earlier said, in his general address to everyone when he first arrived, that people being in the country illegally and not taking their turn was putting pressure on services, which was unfair to other people living in the UK, and added that flights to Rwanda would go. He also said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer's plan was to offer amnesty to immigrants and said: "I don't want the UK to look like a soft touch in Europe."

The first question to be asked was on the economy by Ben Hall-Evans, Conservative councillor on Erewash Borough Council.

One person, Mick Shergold, asked about the NHS and said he had been waiting 12 weeks for a scan and his wife had been waiting for three years. Mr Sunak sympathised with him and said he wished that more progress had been made on reducing waiting lists. He said: "They have come down by 200,000 recently and would have come down by half a million if it hadn't been for doctors' strikes, it has been estimated." He also said that more diagnostic equipment was being set up in communities, negating the need for people to have to go to hospital.

Afterwards Mr Shergold, despite his personal situation, said: "I like the bloke and have a lot more trust in Mr Sunak than Keir Starmer."

When asked by one person what he does to relieve stress, Mr Sunak said he likes walking the dog and also going to the gym.

Derbyshire Live spoke to Mr Sunak after the Q&A session and asked why he had chosen to come to Derbyshire for his first election campaign visit and how important it was to win over voters in the county. He said: "It's really important to me. Maggie (Throup, Erewash MP) is important to me and I wanted to support and also to talk to her local community.

"That's the choice of this election, the questions that people asked earlier. We have been through a lot as a country, but inflation is back to normal, the economy is growing at a healthy pace, wages are rising and energy bills are falling. I have a clear plan for the future and that is what I was setting out for Maggie's constituents and that is what I will be setting out over the next few weeks.

"It's day one of the campaign and that's where I am (in Derbyshire) and that should tell you how important I think it is. I am going to fight hard every day for the next six weeks to demonstrate to the British public that I am the one that has the plan that I am sticking to and can deliver a secure future for everyone."

Posting on social media afterwards, Byline Times political editor Adam Bienkov said that Mr Hills "admitted" to him "to being asked to appear at the event". A Conservative Party spokesman said: "We do not control who asks questions - anyone can try and ask one."