Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have spent the week traveling around the UK attending hustings and sharing their plans for the country if they become the next Tory leader and Prime Minister. During a hustings for Tory party members in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, Mr Johnson hinted he wants to turn parts of the UK into Singapore-style tax-free zones, otherwise known as Free Ports. Free ports are an area of a country where taxes and tariffs do not apply, which means you can import goods, store them and re-export them without bothering the tax collectors.
He said: “We could do free ports, if the UK leaves the European Union as scheduled on 31 October.
“It would be a massive boost to this economy, but only once we come out.
“I will have about six of them, by the way. We should definitely be doing freeports and tax-free zones. They have delivered around the world.
“I think there are around 130 countries that have them. We don’t, because of our membership of the EU. And there are plainly areas that would benefit from them.”
East coast towns in the UK such as Teesside, Aberdeen and Peterhead could be considered as areas for free zones.
And Mayor of Tees Vally Ben Houchen is pushing the next Tory leader to bring in free ports to help create more than 70,000 jobs for Teesside after Britain leaves the EU on October 31.
He told Express.co.uk: “When people voted for Brexit, they voted to be better off and to have a more secure future, and Free Trade Zones can help them to have this.
“The vast majority of people who I represent, and across the whole Northern Powerhouse, voted to leave, and this is a way politicians can make Brexit work for them, as well as remain voters who aren’t convinced leaving will do much for them.
“Free Zones would not only transform the economy of the Tees Valley, by boosting our energy, chemicals and clean growth sectors, they can do so much for the whole of the north and regions beyond.
“By focussing on what we do well, and making it easy for companies to do business here, we can give some of the most deprived communities in the UK the tools they need to turn their own fortunes around.
“They will help us to be a country that makes things again, a country where people in the North and other regions can be proud of. This is why I’m challenging Jeremy and Boris to commit to this positive, pro-Brexit policy, which will demonstrate their commitment to delivering Brexit by October 31.”
But not everyone is convinced Free Ports will create new jobs in the North East.
Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling wrote on her website: “This might sound like a good idea on paper, but free ports have also attracted a lot of criticism; by their very nature they help business avoid tax and give specific businesses in certain areas an advantage over others.
“The North East has many manufacturing companies that are dependent on imports and exports. If a free port was established on Teesside, would this create more jobs for the region? Or just shift jobs from across the North East into one area?
“An area where they pay less tax and basic worker protections and health and safety standards may not apply.”