Post-Brexit freeports will help level-up across the UK and boost growth for pandemic recovery
Workers in the UK enjoy some of the best protections and standards anywhere in the world, freeports won’t change that.
In his Budget speech, the Chancellor placed job creation and investment in communities across the UK at the heart of our economic recovery.
He also gave the nod to one of the most significant and ambitious projects the East Midlands has seen in decades, as he confirmed that we will receive one of the first eight freeports in England, and the only in-land freeport so far. Significantly, this bid secured cross-party support, with regional MPs working together to secure high quality, long-term jobs for their communities.
Many of the arguments made against freeports in recent days have been nothing more than tired ideological tropes. Using the East Midlands bid as a perfect example of a freeport done right, I wanted to take on some of these.
I would challenge those opposing freeports to tell the people and businesses here in Rushcliffe, or Bolsover or Ashfield, that their efforts will amount to the mere ‘displacement’ of jobs, or the ‘draining away’ of opportunities and jobs for local people.
Freeports will not be some sort of Wild West environment where disputes are settled by a shoot out at the local saloon
A freeport attracts businesses to locate within it and more businesses mean more jobs. In the case of the East Midlands freeport, 60,000 additional jobs are forecast over its lifetime. That’s 60,000 new jobs across three counties: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Both in new businesses located in the freeport but also for their supply chains in local communities.
Then there is the concern that labour standards could be undercut. Whilst freeports can form something of a ‘regulatory sandbox’, acting as testbeds for the government to trial new streamlined regulations, these are centred on planning and import procedures, making it easier for businesses to set up shop and operate.
Freeports will not be some sort of Wild West environment where disputes are settled by a shoot out at the local saloon. Workers in the UK enjoy some of the best protections and standards anywhere in the world, freeports won’t change that.
Finally, there is the charge that we’ve had them for years and they haven’t been effective. This ignores the huge restrictions placed on freeports by our membership of the EU. Had we remained in the EU, our independent freeports ambition would be hamstrung by common trade policy, diluted by state aid rules governing freeport incentives, and penalised by EU competition practices.
We’re now in a prime position to design a freeports model that works for the UK.
There are many other nations who have been doing this for decades. In the US, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the freeports model. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer utilised ‘Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs)’ (the US equivalent of a freeport) to ensure a swift and competitive rollout of its vaccine. The FTZ model helped cut costs on various pharmaceutical ingredients and allowed the company to store its vaccine indefinitely in freeports until approved by the US regulator; ultimately supporting American jobs and saving lives all over the world.
From the Tees Valley to the Solent, via the East Midlands, the new network of freeports demonstrates the government’s commitment to levelling up across the country. I think it’s time for us all to get behind these developments as we look to our post-pandemic recovery.
Ruth Edwards is the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe.
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