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Boris Johnson visits Kent but details kept secret and KentOnline initially turned away from Lydd Airport

When making a monumental announcement about a huge humanitarian crisis that has put Kent in the international spotlight, it is hardly surprising the Prime Minister chose the county as the venue to deliver the update.

What's perhaps slightly harder to fathom, is why such an important development – sending people seeking asylum from Dover to Rwanda is controversial to say the least – would be stage managed in such a way as to potentially exclude the county's media.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Lydd airport. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Lydd airport. Picture: Barry Goodwin

As is often the way with Central Government visits, there is more than an element of cloak and daggers about it.

You could be forgiven for thinking that news of such magnitude would be delivered after months of careful planning, culminating in a press conference where what's announced can be given proper scrutiny. And that's not to mention the other questions he could answer – what about the queues at Dover, the cost of living crisis and those even more awkward ones about parties and fines?

Instead, details of this morning's visit were kept carefully guarded.

Rather than Downing Street's press team, the fact the Prime Minister would be in Kent today was shared with KentOnline by an organisation run by Sky News yesterday. No specific location was given.

This morning, following a tip-off, our picture editor Barry Goodwin headed for Lydd Airport.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Lydd airport. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Lydd airport. Picture: Barry Goodwin

It became apparent it was the right place but, despite KentOnline having been at the forefront of the coverage of the Channel crossing crisis, he was turned away.

"It's not the first time this sort of thing has happened," said Barry. "It's all smoke and mirrors. I told them my newsdesk sent me down here but they said the pool was full, you will not be getting in."

KentOnline was told the pool was a small one – just the Press Association and, possibly, Associated Press – two national agencies whose copy is widely shared with other news organisations.

Some phone calls were exchanged with the Downing Street press team and KentOnline was told, if it could get someone there by 10, they would be allowed entry. But any cameras would have to be left at the door.

This was at 9.30am – just half an hour before the cut-off for getting in the room, before the PM gave his speech at 10.25. It ended up getting under way about 20 minutes later than planned.

Boris Johnson at Lydd airport (56084636)
Boris Johnson at Lydd airport (56084636)

And this was in Lydd – as most people from Kent will know, it's not exactly somewhere you can get to very quickly. The PM had arrived by helicopter, probably wisely avoiding the need to take any of the county's motorways.

Late for the press conference but early for the Connected Festival as some on social media were quick to point out.

Fortunately, our man had been in the right place at the right time – but only because of a tip-off.

As it happened, the pool was nowhere near as shallow as had been suggested, as the PM took questions from the BBC, ITV, the Daily Mail and the Guardian, to name a few.

So word of the visit had obviously spread further than first thought – but was restricted to national media.

Chatham Town gets a visit from Boris Johnson. Picture: CTFC
Chatham Town gets a visit from Boris Johnson. Picture: CTFC

His whereabouts this afternoon remained an even more closely guarded secret.

The PM is still in the county, but details were due to be revealed only after he had left.

His press team on the ground described it as "a pool moment" and the venue as a "joint command centre" – and any pictures would be released later on.

The last time Mr Johnson visited Kent, similar happened.

In February, he made a surprise visit to Maidstone hospital and Chatham Town Football Club in a last-minute trip, where local press were not invited and unable to quiz him on local issues.

In December, he visited a vaccination centre in Thanet where our reporter waited all morning to share a 10-minute interview with two other journalists.

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