BORIS Johnson has said expanding Southampton Airport will boost the area's links across Britain helping boost the economy.

Speaking to the Daily Echo, the Prime Minister backed the runway extension - currently approved but subject to a High Court legal battle - at the airport in the Eastleigh borough.

Mr Johnson was visiting the airport, and later spoke with voters in the borough. He was with Eastleigh MP Paul Holmes ahead of the local elections on Thursday.

He said he "strongly supports" the expansion and said the case for doing so is environmentally "defensible".

Extinction Rebellion protested at the airport last June against the expansion.

Mr Johnson arrived by train - taking the short 23 steps from the station to the arrivals terminal - this lunchtime.

READ MORE: Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Southampton Airport ahead of election

Mr Johnson, who also spent time talking with Border Force officers, told the Echo: "We're here in Eastleigh at Southampton Airport, right by the station and it just shows the advantages of this part of the world.

Daily Echo: Boris Johnson at Eastleigh Airport. Photo: PA Wire/Adrian DennisBoris Johnson at Eastleigh Airport. Photo: PA Wire/Adrian Dennis

"I strongly support the plans for the improvements of the airport by 2023, the extension - short extension of the runway which will enable fewer, bigger, quieter planes to arrive.

"So from an environmental perspective, it's totally defensible. 

"But from a business perspective from a jobs and growth perspective, I think it's the right thing for this part of the world. 

"And we need more speaking as the PM of the whole UK, we need more connectivity between our regions, it's absolutely vital.

"The levelling-up agenda means that people need to be able to move fast from one regional hub to another, not just to the centre. 

"The second thing I think we should we should be going for is this: the freeport by 2025. I think that's totally right. 

"This airport area, I think, part of it will be the tax exemption site. And that's very good, very, very good too - something I would stress that we can only deliver because of Brexit.

"And that is that will, again bring more jobs, more growth to Southampton."

Last month in the High Court the Group Opposed to the Expansion of Southampton Airport (GOESA) argued Eastleigh Borough Council acted in a "substantively legally flawed" way by not waiting to hear from the Government before approving the runway extension.

Mr Johnson met airport staff, including 58-year-old Stephen Longley - engineering asset manager - whose father Clifford Longley, 83, was Mr Johnson's former boss at the Daily Telegraph.

Stephen said the Prime Minister made the connection after spotting his surname, and remembered his father who was then lead editor for the national newspaper.

Stephen said: "He was very charismatic, he was full of beans about everything - he seemed happy to make the connection."

Stephen works at the airport with his daughter, 31-year-old Natasha Longley, who works in her father's team.

Mr Johnson's visit comes as voters in Eastleigh head to the polls tomorrow. The council is a current Liberal Democrat stronghold. The party holds 32 seats compared to the Conservatives' two. Independents hold five seats.

Yesterday, Sir Keir Starmer visited Bitterne where he said the cost of living crisis was the number one issue for people in the city.

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