Sturgeon SHAMED: Another ‘humiliating U-turn’ for SNP over post-Brexit freeport masterplan

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Scottish ministers have now announced plans to develop “green ports” as an alternative model to the freeports being set up by the UK Government in the wake of Brexit. Ms Sturgeon had previously dismissed freeports as “low-cost, low-wage, low-value opportunities”. Ministers at Westminster hope to establish at least seven freeports in England, giving the areas “generous” tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and wider Government support.

This is a humiliating climb-down for the SNP

Maurice Golden

Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee claimed there were concerns about criminality, tax evasion and reduced workers’ rights in freeport zones and insisted it was “not a model or an approach that this Scottish Government will sign up to or allow here in Scotland”.

He said the Scottish Government would instead “adapt” the UK policy and align it with its values of fair work and developing a lower carbon economy.

But Scottish Conservative economy spokesman, Maurice Golden MSP, said: “This is a humiliating climb-down for the SNP.”

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Mr Golden continued: “Just a few months ago, Ivan McKee was claiming that freeports are a ‘shiny squirrel’ and the SNP conference backed a motion slamming them.

“This screeching SNP U-turn is very welcome. It seems they have finally realised that businesses are desperate to reap the benefits from freeports.

“The Scottish Conservatives and UK Government have said for months that the SNP should stop playing politics and start working constructively to take these proposals forward.

“Yet again, the SNP treated business as an afterthought. They ignored the benefits to make political points and only now have they finally backed down.”

Mr McKee told MSPs the Scottish government had developed a proposal which adapts the published UK Government proposition to make them fit for the Scottish context.

He said: “We will take the UK Government’s freeport model and apply Scotland’s values and priorities to it so that it meets our ambition to develop a net-zero economy and uphold the highest standard of environmental protections and fair work practices.

“Scotland will turn freeports into sustainable, fair, green ports.

“We won’t be engaging with an economic model and mechanism that allows for a race to the bottom.

“Instead the Scottish green port model will be an exemplar, adopting best practice which helps to deliver on net-zero and fair work principles alongside supporting regeneration and innovation ambitions.”

While he said firms located in any new green ports could potentially benefit from some rates reliefs, he added there would be “clear conditions” and “obligations” they would have to meet.

These could include companies having to pay staff the real living wage and sign up to the Scottish Business Pledge, which bars firms from using zero-hours contracts and commits them to working to tackle the gender pay gap.

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Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart said: “Freeports will play an important part in the UK’s economic recovery, increasing international trade, attracting new investment and creating jobs in communities right across the UK.

“It’s great to see so much enthusiasm for freeports in Scotland from ports, local authorities and businesses.

“We want to ensure all parts of the UK benefit from this UK Government initiative, and we welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to work with us on it.

“We look forward to bringing the first freeport to Scotland.”

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