‘Free Port’ Brexit boon?

Boris Johnson believes ‘Free Ports’ in the North could prove among the ‘attractions and advantages’ of Brexit.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 12:41 pm
Foyle Port.

He held out the prospect while selling a revised withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union to MPs.

“NI will not only be able to take part in free trade deals, but will benefit from many of the advantages and attractions of Brexit, in the sense that we could, for example, regulate financial services differently and better, and have a ‘Free Port’ in Belfast,” said the British Prime Minister.

Last month British Trade Secretary Liz Truss convened the first meeting of a new ‘Advisory Panel on Free Ports.’ The panel is charged with developing the future design and operation of ‘Free Ports’ in the UK. Ports, airports and other interested parties from across the UK will be invited to bid for ‘Free Port’ status once its work is completed.

“We’re establishing ‘Free Ports’ across the UK to drive growth and transform ports, towns and cities all around our coast,” said Ms. Truss.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak said: “‘Free Ports’ could support thousands of high-skilled jobs once established in the UK.”

‘Free Ports’ are free trade havens where minimal checks, paperwork, tariffs, customs and taxes apply.

Momentum has been building behind the concept under the current Johnson government. Last year Theresa May’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond was less enthusiastic.

“We are less interested in ideas which simply try to shift economic activity from one area or region to another... we should be trying to grow economic activity overall.

“‘Free Port’ proposals would depend on the arrangements that we would agree with the EU,” he said during a visit to Derry.

Foyle Port declined to respond to Mr. Johnson’s comments. The port is currently among a group of local bodies that are concentrating energies on the £50m ‘City Deal’ and £55 million ‘Inclusive Future Fund’ for Derry that was announced in May.

In Foyle Port’s annual statement published last month Chief Executive Brian McGrath said: “The trust port model envisaged by our founders remains as valid today as it was in 1854. There have been many challenges to the organisation since then and we are at the cusp of a new era in the aftermath of the divisive Brexit experience. It is supremely ironic that we have delivered the best results in the Port’s history just as we prepare to leave the European Union.”