Can free ports save the North post-Brexit?

A recent report argues that tariff-free trading zones could generate £1,500 for every Northern family. 

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Free ports could provide the answer to growing the economy of Northern England after Brexit, a new report claims.

Free ports are special trade zones that exist within a country as an independent jurisdiction, where goods can be imported and exported tariff-free and without the application of other customs arrangements.

Establishing such zones in seven northern ports could generate more than 150,000 jobs and contribute more than £9bn a year to the economy, argues the report by Mace, a consultancy and construction firm.

The UK is currently prevented from establishing such zones as an EU member, but Insights: Super Charged Free Ports  says that by combining tariff-free trade with existing infrastructure, Grimsby & Immingham, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester Airport, Hull, Teesport and Port of Tyne could develop significant opportunities for trade. By integrating free ports with local enterprise zones, they would become “super charged”, providing a major boost to regional economies in the North.

Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who has been driving a campaign to establish a free port at the existing port of Teesport, welcomed the findings.

“This report confirms what I have been saying for a very long time, that a free port in the Tees Valley will be transformational for our region and vital in a post-Brexit Britain,” said Houchen.

“When we leave the EU, Britain will find itself with the freedom to be an outward-looking country trading with the entire world once again.”

While the North has experienced industrial decline over recent decades, it has “recently seen positive signs of growth and could significantly benefit from our new trading future outside the EU,” the report observes, and this plan could be an opportunity for “re-balancing the north and south of the UK; and all by creating new growth, rather than redistributing government funding.”

Houchen has called for the government to “get behind” the campaign. Labour MP for Hartlepool Mike Hill, who also welcomed the report, has called for “action” on re-balancing the economy. “As we leave the EU it is vital that we maximise our global trading potential,” said Hill.

Augusta Riddy is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman.