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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visits Kent amid race to be Prime Minister

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has been in Kent on a whistle-stop tour of Conservative groups to whip up support in her bid to be Tory leader and the next Prime Minister.

When the premiership hopeful visited Sevenoaks this morning, reporter Alex Jee went along to hear what she had to say about Kent...

Liz Truss visited Sevenoaks this morning
Liz Truss visited Sevenoaks this morning

When I signed up for a ticket to 'Ask Liz', I must admit I expected a very formal occasion – something with a stage where there would be a lengthy talk and a few questions.

I was surprised, therefore, to find myself in the garden of a private house near Sevenoaks, standing to wait for her to arrive with a group of around 30 or 40 people, most of them Conservative party members.

It also made me slightly nervous; while there had been nothing to say press were not allowed, lengthy attempts to get a press pass through official channels had fallen flat, so I would have to find the right opportunity to identify myself.

This was not helped by an organiser laughing that he was standing by the front gate to "keep the wrong people – the reporters – out," but I convinced myself that was a joke.

I was equally taken aback to find out – courtesy of a number of people milling in the garden – that Ms Truss's rival Rishi Sunak had also visited Sevenoaks just last night.

The ex-Chancellor's surprise visit to the Stag Theatre had caught a lot of people off guard, it seemed, with many disappointed they did not get the chance to see both potential party leaders.

Still, that disappointment did not last long as one of the brains behind the visit excitedly announced that the Foreign Secretary was just minutes away.

His suggestion that everyone form a guard of honour into the garden, however, fell a bit flat. One voice could even be heard piping up with an unimpressed "really?".

What Ms Truss found instead was an awkward semi-circle of keen supporters – and one journalist hoping to get a question in before being ousted. But more on that in a moment.

While she was taken around to shake hands and pose for photos, I overheard her describe Kent as "the best – of course – of the Home Counties".

Liz Truss with KentOnline reporter Alex Jee
Liz Truss with KentOnline reporter Alex Jee

Quite right too – although I'm sure she says that to all of them, despite her "home away from home", Chevening, being just down the road from where we were.

She then launched into a short speech, covering Ukraine, the economy, Brexit, and other points in the space of around seven minutes.

She also said she was planning to "turbocharge the rural economy" – something that she said would be vital for Kent.

"Here, you have everything from great fruit to sparkling wine, but we need to help producers succeed," she added.

"We also need to protect our countryside – I would abolish top-down housing targets, and instead have locally-run plans."

"I have a phone call due to resolve the border issues... we need to get that sorted straight away"

Eventually, it came to the questions. When I was chosen for the very last one, I'm happy to say that nobody stopped me despite me declaring myself as a reporter – perhaps it was too late at that point.

I pushed her on what she would do to address the issues in Dover that have been seen over the last few days, as well as the chaos that is constantly inflicted on the M20 by Operation Brock.

Her response was: "I actually have a phone call due with the French foreign minister to resolve the border issues because the French are not putting enough resources into it.

"We need to get that sorted straight away – she was due to call me last night, I'm afraid she didn't, so I am on her tail at the moment."

She then went on to speak about her approach to Channel crossings, including supporting the Rwanda deal and indeed looking to establish new, similar partnerships with other countries.

The Foreign Secretary was rushed off for the next in another four group meetings today
The Foreign Secretary was rushed off for the next in another four group meetings today

Neither candidate has been drawn on Operation Brock as of yet, and the issue once again passed by without comment.

The Foreign Secretary was due in several other locations including Maidstone and Canterbury around the county today – traffic permitting – finishing in Folkestone tonight.

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