Wales will get a freeport ‘come what may’, the UK Government’s Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has said.

No freeport was announced for Wales in the UK Budget last week as UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the location of eight freeports across England.

Speaking at a UK Government lobby briefing on Wednesday, March 10, Mr Hart said it had been the UK Government’s intention to announce a freeport in Wales in last week’s budget, but the announcement was “held up by the Welsh Government.”

Mr Hart said it was disappointing a deal has not been struck with the Drakeford government but warned that the UK Government has the right to press ahead with plans without their cooperation.

Mr Hart said: “Technically and legally, there is a reserved freeport model. We want to be collaborative, but we do ultimately have the ability to proceed.

“Freeports will create and sustain jobs, create inward investment, and it was our intention to get freeports over the line simultaneously.”

“It is a source of frustration that we have not been able to strike a deal with Welsh Government. We thought we had got there but there has been a hold up.

“We will deliver a freeport in Wales come what May. I believe there may be some ideological resistance from the First Minister’s office.

“We were getting very positive vibes and then suddenly we got very negative vibes at the final furlong.”

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Despite the Welsh Government calling for joint-decision making on the issue, saying it wrote to the UK Government in early February to outline their position and concerns, it has not yet received a response.

Last week, First Minister Mark Drakeford expressed concerns that English freeports could displace economic activity from Wales.

There are also understood to be disagreements over the impact the introduction of freeports will have on the Welsh Government’s ‘fair work’ and environmental goals.

Some taxes at freeports will exempt, such as land transaction tax which is devolved to the Welsh Government.

Responding to Mr Hart’s comments, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “If the UK Government sought to implement the freeports policy in Wales without our support it could only be achieved without the devolved levers, which would be an immediately less attractive and competitive offer compared with those in England.

“It would be incredibly disappointing if Wales were to receive a worse offer purely because the UK Government were unwilling to work constructively with us."

 “We remain open to the idea of establishing a freeport in Wales, however we have made clear our reservations around the associated risks of the UK Government’s approach to the policy for some time.

“The decision to announce English Freeports without concluding arrangements for Wales means that there is concern that Freeports could draw jobs and investment out of Wales.

“We are willing to work constructively with the UK Government to advance their commitment but we must be reassured that they will work with us to mitigate these risks, to ensure the policy will ultimately be beneficial to the people of Wales.”

What is a freeport?

The National Wales: Milford Haven is another Welsh port expected to compete for freeport status. Source: Russ HamerMilford Haven is another Welsh port expected to compete for freeport status. Source: Russ Hamer

Freeports are located around shipping ports and airports. They exclude these ports from paying tax charges and tariffs on goods that are then sent overseas.

The UK had seven freeports between 1984 and 2012, including Cardiff, and the UK Government believes their reintroduction will make it easier and cheaper to do business.

It is understood more than 30 locations in England bid to be given freeport status, with eight being approved: East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside.

Each freeport is expected to receive around £25m from the UK Government, which has promised to introduce one each in Wales and Scotland.

The locations expected to bid for freeport status nclude Holyhead, Milford Haven, Port Talbot, Swansea, Newport, Cardiff, Cardiff Airport and Barry.

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