December 27, 2022 5.45 pm This story is over 11 months old

Flashback 2022: The year Prime Ministers came to Lincolnshire (twice)

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak both vied for Lincolnshire’s support

Lincolnshire was graced by the most powerful office holder in the country — not once but twice this year.

Boris Johnson visited local media, air bases and factories during his twilight months as Prime Minister.

Rishi Sunak brought his first (unsuccessful) leadership bid in the county, then made another appearance once he’d made it to the top office.

Liz Truss didn’t find time during her short-lived premiership to see the sights.

Here’s the impact each Prime Minister made as they spoke to The Lincolnite reporters about what is in store for Lincolnshire.

Boris Johnson visits The Lincolnite newsroom

— Daniel Jaines, Local Democracy Reporter

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at The Lincolnite offices. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The secretive call came when I was on my own in the office.

“Would you like a government VIP to come to your office on Thursday?” they asked.

It was quickly made clear who it was, without saying who it was.

“I think I can safely say yes,” I told them.

The visit was “need to know” – trying to get the message to my editor without telling anyone else in the office was difficult.

The rest of the building was also kept in the dark about the VIP’s identity.

We dropped a couple of hints though, asking what readers would ask the PM, and also getting council leaders to ask their key questions via video recording.

Our list of questions – massively cut down from the number we would have like to ask – focused on local issues rather than national stories everyone had already asked him.

The Prime Minister arrived fashionably late after his visit to RAF Waddington, accompanied by Lincoln MP Karl McCartney .

After a brief tour of the office and a chance to gaze at the Cathedral view from our HQ windows, it was down to business.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens to Martin Hill’s questions. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Despite meeting ministers and other top government officials in my 13 years on the job, it was still exciting to carry out an interview with my first Prime Minister.

For the most part, Mr Johnson was well-briefed, only needing to refer to the thick red folder next to him on one occasion.

We began with Lincolnshire’s role in the Ukraine crisis – at that point only just beginning – where he said RAF Waddington was “crucial” to monitor the situation.

This was followed by council leaders’ videos and questions over plans for devolution (“we’re very keen to push ahead”) and levelling up (there’s “massive investment but it’s still something we have to fix”).

“The White Paper [on devolution] makes it clear that we’re happy to come up with a model that fits Lincolnshire,” he said.

“You don’t have to impose a mayoral model. I was a beneficiary of the mayoral model in London, but you know, there are all sorts of ways of doing it.”

Our time was quickly cut short, and aides were keen to move on by this point – we’d already pushed our luck – and as soon as it began it was over.

10 months on (and two PMs down the line) Lincolnshire is still waiting to be financially rescued and for devolution to move ahead.

Boris fishes for support in Grimsby

— Jamie Waller, Local Democracy Reporter

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to reporter Jamie Waller at Hilton Seafood, Grimsby, with MP Lia Nici | Photo: LDRS

When Boris Johnson made his trip to North East Lincolnshire, he was trying to survive the lockdown parties scandal, but there was no hint he would be gone within months.

He visited Hilton Seafood factory as an example of Grimsby great fishing heritage.

My credentials were triple-checked when I arrived, and I wasn’t sure if the burly people walking around were employees or plainclothes security officers.

The Prime Minister toured the factory along with Lia Nici, the new Grimsby MP who was regularly seen at his side after being promoted to Personal Parliamentary Secretary.

He took longer than expected as he got stuck in packing fishcakes – “Boris loves to have a go at things on visits”, an aide said.

I suddenly found myself in a tiny office with the larger-than-life Prime Minister (trademarked ruffled hair and all.) It was quite surreal seeing him in person rather than on a screen.

Knowing I only had a few minutes, I asked the big questions about Grimsby’s future and what his Levelling Up project would deliver for it.

Boris Johnson at the Grimsby Fish Market in 2019

He was classic Boris – slightly rambling and eccentric but passionate.

He was especially enthusiastic about the factory he’d seen, describing it as “Fishcake El Dorado”. (That of course made the headline.)

The only question that threw him off was about the Grimsby Town Football Club bobble hat he was occasionally seen sporting.

“It’s the first thing I grab when I run out the house,” he said, adding it was “very good – lovely and warm. What I like most is that it comes down and covers my ears.”

With those words, he was off – never to return to Lincolnshire as Prime Minister.

Rishi battles for Number 10

RAF Coningsby was an early stop for new PM Rishi Sunak | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2022

By June, Johnson had announced he was standing down, and Rishi Sunak had launched his own bid to become Prime Minister.

He made an early appearance in Grantham, declaring he was the “the only person who can beat Labour” and promising he would “get a grip on inflation”.

He gained the support of several Lincolnshire MPs and leaders, but lost the leadership contest to Liz Truss.

However, he only had to wait 44 days for her premiership to collapse and to finally ascend to the top job.

In December, he toured RAF Coningsby and its XI Squadron before announcing a new air combat programme.

“The security of the United Kingdom, both today and for future generations, will always be of paramount importance to this Government,” Mr Sunak said.

“That’s why we need to stay at the cutting-edge of advancements in defence technology – outpacing and out-manoeuvring those who seek to do us harm.”

Whether he can secure a place for his party at the next General Election remains to be seen.

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