Tight security as PM Boris Johnson brings his Cabinet to Sunderland for final meeting before UK leaves the European Union
Tight security surrounded the Government’s trip to Sunderland for its final Cabinet meeting before the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
Dozens of police patrolled a fenced cordon placed around the city’s Glass Centre with armed officers also visible on the venue’s roof throughout Friday.
While Johnson and his ministers have said little publicly about why they travelled 300 miles north on Brexit Day, it is believed to be a symbolic gesture after the city was the first place to have its Leave vote declared during the 2016 Referendum.
The Prime Minister began his trip to the city just before noon with a visit to the University of Sunderland’s Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP), in Hylton Riverside, where he met businesses benefiting from the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing project and also engineering students.
As he manoeuvred his way into a student built racing car, he joked: “Normally I’m not allowed in, I need a block and tackle to get me out.”
He then joined his Cabinet at the university-owned Glass Centre at just after 1pm where they met business leaders, apprentices and school children before holding their meeting in a room overlooking the River Wear.
Among those he met were John Hays, owner of Sunderland-based Hays Travel, which bought struggling travel firm Thomas Cook last year, and pupils from the city’s Richard Avenue Primary School.
He also talked with the university’s vice chancellor, Sir David Bell, who said afterwards: “We consider it a great honour that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet wanted to visit the University of Sunderland on this very significant day in our nation's history.
“Sunderland prides itself on being a welcoming city. So when asked to host the meeting, we were delighted to accept.”
Sir David added: “Throughout the visit, there was an upbeat mood and a real sense that Sunderland is a great place to live, work, study and do business, now and in the future.”
Around 40 members of the public waited quietly outside the cordon to watch the Prime Minister’s cavalcade leave the premises at around 4.30pm.
Among them was University of Sunderland first-year journalism student Daniel Hordon, 19, who made a three-hour round trip from Cramlington on a day off from lectures to witness what he called a “piece of history”.
Mr Hordon, who said he would have chosen to Remain if he had been old enough to vote in 2016, added: “In years to come people will ask where were you when we left the European Union and I will be able to say I was in Sunderland when the Cabinet held their meeting there.
“At the same time, it could easily have been held in Downing Street as normal. You only have to look around at all the hi-vis jackets on show to realise how much it will have cost.”
Among a handful of protesters earlier in the day were James and Janet Sheerin, both 58, from Newcastle, members of the North East for Europe group.
Mr Sheerin said: “Johnson coming here is a cheap publicity stunt.”