Boris Johnson’s government has revealed plans to open up to 10 “free ports” across the UK, following up on comments he made during the leadership contest.
International trade secretary Liz Truss has appointed an advisory panel to put together a proposal for the plan, which Truss said would boost economic growth.
“Freedoms transformed London’s Docklands in the 1980s, and free ports will do the same for towns and cities across the UK," said Truss. “They will join onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the 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 free port model and launch the new ports as soon as possible.”
Free ports would be exempt from the UK’s customs territory, allowing for the tariff-free import of goods. Companies within free zones may also be temporarily exempt from paying national insurance contributions for employees.
However, critics describe them as potential tax havens. Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner described the plan as 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,” said Gardiner.
“The British people did not vote for this new administration and they certainly did not vote to see their jobs and livelihoods threatened in favour of gifting further tax breaks to big companies and their bosses.”
In March, a special committee of MEPs criticised free ports within the EU—including one authorised by Jean-Claude Juncker, outgoing President of the European Commission and at the time prime minister of Luxembourg—for their lack of transparency to tax authorities and their “perfunctory” control measures.
Last month it was reported that the owners of Bristol Port, which is one of the possible new sites for tax exemption, donated £25,000 to Johnson’s leadership campaign.
Source: The Independent