Government announces plans for 10 tariff free ports

2 Aug 19

The UK will create up to 10 ‘free ports’ after Brexit in an attempt to boost ‘left behind areas’ of the country, the government has announced.

Ports and airports across the UK can now bid to become a free port, where goods will not be subject to the normal customs and tax rules. 

Firms will be able to import, manufacture then export goods in and out of these areas without tariffs being applied to them.

Boris Johnson, in a speech last weekend, said these ports could “generate thousands of high-skilled jobs – and revitalise some of the poorest parts of our country”.

The government has said the tariff free zones would “be free of unnecessary checks and paperwork, and include customs and tax benefits”.

But shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the move represents “a race to the bottom that will have money launderers and tax dodgers rubbing their hands with glee”.

“Free ports and free enterprise zones risk companies shutting up shop in one part of the country in order to exploit tax breaks elsewhere, and, worst of all, lower employment rights.”

The European Commission said in a recent report free ports “pose a risk as regards to counterfeiting”. It makes it easier for counterfeiters to import goods, tamper with them then export them again without the need to pay customs, the commission explained. 

International trade secretary Liz Truss today announced the creation of a Freeports Advisory Panel, which will advise the government on the creation of the ports. 

Truss said: “Freedoms transformed London’s Docklands in the 1980s, and free ports will do the same for towns and cities across the UK. They will onshore enterprise and manufacturing as they gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs.

“We will have a truly independent trade policy after we leave the EU on October 31. I look forward to working with the Freeports Advisory Panel to create the world’s most advanced Freeport model and launch the new ports as soon as possible.”

The government cited international examples where it said free ports had been successful, such as in the United States, which created 250 free trade zones, employing 420,000 people.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak said: “We are exploring freeports as an innovative way to drive growth and support thousands of high-skilled jobs across the UK.

“We will focus on those areas that could benefit most, as we look to boost investment and opportunity for communities across the country.”

The announcement comes as chancellor Sajid Javid wrote a letter – seen by the BBC – to the head of HMRC telling him to make no deal preparations an “absolute top priority”.

In the letter to CIPFA member Sir Jon Thompson, Javid requested systems are in place to “deliver a functioning regime” on October 31 ensuring that IT systems are ready and 5,000 staff are available to deal with the increase in customs declarations.

Javid also asked for “weekly delivery-focused updates from HMRC to ensure progress remains on track”.

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