BORIS JOHNSON made his second visit in a week to the marginal seats of the Tees Valley yesterday, and dropped in on The Northern Echo, as the region looks set to play a critical role in determining the general election.

In a short but wide-ranging interview, Mr Johnson spoke about trust in politicians, his plans for the NHS, and the need for greater devolution. He is also made a surprise announcement of an effective tax cut by making changes to National Insurance (NI).

Several of the most closely fought seats in the region, like Bishop Auckland, Stockton South and perhaps Darlington, could be decided by how many votes the Brexit Party takes from the two major parties, to which the Prime Minister simply said: “We are the only party at this election which will get Brexit done.”

The big headline from his day concerned his plans to raise the point at which workers start paying NI – a tax which entitles people to benefits, like a state pension, unemployment allowance and access to the NHS. People currently start to pay when they earn more than £8,628-a-year.

“I’m a believer in tax cutting wherever you can and it is clear that we should be cutting taxes for people who are on the lowest incomes and who need help with the cost of living,” he told the Echo, as he visited its Darlington headquarters, “so we are putting the threshold up to £9,500 and we want eventually to put it up to £12,500 which would put £500 a year into people’s pockets.”

Mr Johnson first mentioned the plan at lunchtime in a question-and-answer session with workers at an engineering plant in the shadow of the Transporter Bridge, and it seemed to take his advisors by surprise. It appeared as if he had given away a major part of the Conservatives’ manifesto, which is due to be launched in a few days’ time, although some commentators wondered if it was a clever leak to guarantee days of positive headlines.

He said: “We can afford to do it as it will cost £2.1bn next year. I campaigned on this during my leadership bid – you should be doing all you can to relieve the pressure on people, and it helps the economy because they will consume more.”

He explained that the money was available because he had stopped a planned cut to corporation tax. “Corporation tax is already the lowest in Europe, which is a good thing, and the question was are we going to cut it a further two per cent, but there’s no need to do that – it’s better to keep that £6bn cash and put it into the NHS and this.”

He was keen to talk about the NHS, despite last week’s figures which showed that 83.6 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the target of four hours compared with 89.1 per cent last year – the worst figure since targets were introduced in 2004. Yesterday’s Echo brought further bad news, telling of a 112 per cent rise in the North-East in the number of people waiting more than four hours to get a bed once they had been admitted to hospital, with South Tees and Darlington Memorial particularly affected.

He said: “I’ve only actually been in office for 120 days and we’ve already pledged to put the biggest cash boost ever into the NHS and that involves £34bn delivering 20 hospital upgrades and 40 new hospitals and just in this area, it means Newcastle gets £41.7m to improve paediatric and cardiac services and a share of funding for CT scanners.”

He wasn’t able to give any specific examples of hospitals in County Durham, the Tees Valley or North Yorkshire benefitting, but he said: “The plan is to keep continuous investment – 6,000 more GPs, tens of thousands more nurses.”

He said that as Britain leaves the EU, it will set up an immigration system to attract medical workers.

Sitting in the Echo editor’s office beneath historic front pages reporting world changing events, he said: “We don’t want to be keeping out people who will become nurses, so we’re putting in a special visa for nurses to contract the time they have to wait to come and work in the NHS from around the world, and we are targeting doctors as well.

“We want an NHS that is very open and yet we want to control immigration – we want to use an Australian-style points system so that you manage it so that you don’t have a lot of pressure from people who don’t have a job to come to.”

His day dashing from the Ebac factory in Newton Aycliffe along the Tees Valley for fish and chips at Saltburn pier, which is in the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency won by the Tories by just 1,020 votes in 2017, seemed to be taking its toll, as by the time he reached Darlington in the evening, he was lagging – certainly, he didn’t have the energy which he unleashed on last week’s visit when he bounced through Eaglescliffe’s Tetley tea plant like Tigger.

But then yesterday was the day after the nerve-wracking first TV debate between himself and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of that debate was the way that both men were laughed at by the audience. Mr Corbyn’s stance on Brexit was scoffed at while Mr Johnson’s assertion that the truth was very important to him was greeted with giggles, all of which suggested that neither party leader was much trusted.

“People understand that over the last three-and-a-half years, politicians have had a chance to honour the mandate of the people and deliver the Brexit referendum result and they haven’t done so,” he said. “People in this part of the world voted for leave, were promised time and time again by politicians that they would get it done and they haven’t.

“Politics will only recover once we’ve got it done, and the economy will be in a state of limbo until we’ve got it done – you are seeing investments that could come to this country not coming, people are hanging fire on employment decisions and on buying houses.”

Labour is promising to negotiate a new exit deal with the EU which it will put to a referendum within six months of taking power, and the LibDems want to revoke Brexit altogether. Mr Johnson repeated that only he has a deal which is “oven ready”.

However, no economic impact assessment has been published on his deal, which detractors say will knock about five percentage points off Britain’s national income. Mr Johnson rode roughshod over that, pointing to all the other benefits that will come with it.

He said: “The deal that we have, that each of the 635 Conservative candidates backs, means we come out on January 31, with a complete smooth transition, and it allows us to do free trade deals, to cut VAT on tampons, to change the way we handle animal welfare conditions.

“It means Teesport could become a freeport with different tax arrangements that would encourage manufacturing and business of all kinds.”

Time was now against him – he confessed the election was so all consuming he wasn't even watching the other great public vote-off in the jungle.

He disappeared into the dark Darlington night, where a small crowd bade him farewell with a loud cry of "well done, Boris" and an equally emphatic boo.

He will, though, be back before polling day on December 12 as for the first time in decades, and in the case of Bishop Auckland and even Sedgefield, for the first time in a century, the Tories see south Durham seats as being in play.