Minister slams Welsh Secretary for threatening to ‘impose’ freeport in Wales
A Welsh Minister has slammed the UK Government for threatening to “impose” a freeport on Wales.
The Welsh Government’s Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, has taken aim at Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, who has said Wales will have to accept one “come what may”.
Gething, said imposing a freeport on Wales without the consent of the Welsh Government would lead to a “worse outcome”, ahead of giving evidence to a Westminster committee later on today.
He will team up with and Finance and Local Government Minister, Rebecca Evans in front of the House of Commons’ Welsh Affairs Committee, where they are expected to say that they are “open” to accepting a freeport in Wales, but only under certain conditions, which include taking a “joint approach”.
They have criticised the UK Government for not presenting a formal offer for a freeport to be established in Wales.
But they added that they are prepared to explore the use of devolved planning, business support and tax powers to ensure any freeports in Wales deliver on the Welsh Government’s priorities, including its commitments to fair work and safeguarding the environment.
The Ministers will tell the Committee that the Welsh Government is willing to work constructively with the UK Government. In February, Ministers wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak to discuss a proposal for a freeport, but over five months later, the he has yet to respond.
Ministers have also written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay, and the Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, this week to again set out the conditions where a joint approach could be taken.
Ministers say they have been “clear” that the Welsh Government cannot accept a proposal where a Welsh freeport would receive less financial support than the £25m made available for Freeports in England.
Speaking ahead of the committee hearing, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “We remain open to the idea of having a Freeport in Wales, but creating one here would require the use of devolved powers.
“However, as it stands, the UK Government has not agreed to our request for joint decision making, and no appropriate funding has been offered.
“We have repeatedly pressed UK Ministers for constructive engagement. The lack of clarity about implementing Freeports in Wales, a policy driven by the UK Government, is destabilising business decisions in an already exceptionally uncertain economic environment, and is having a direct impact on investment decisions.
“Furthermore, their decision to announce specific Freeports for England, without concluding arrangements for Wales, gives rise to the potential for jobs and investment to be drawn out of Wales.
“Until the UK Government responds to us and presents us with a formal offer, the ball remains firmly in the UK Government’s court.
“Our message to the UK Government is clear – the Secretary of State for Wales’ suggestion that the UK Government could impose a Freeport in Wales without our agreement would result in a worse outcome for everyone. The UK Government need to work with us, not against us.”
Finance and Local Government Minister, Rebecca Evans added: “It would be entirely unacceptable for any Welsh Freeport to receive a penny less than the £25m the UK Government is providing for each Freeport in England.
“It would mean a Welsh Freeport would be immediately disadvantaged in comparison to English counterparts, or would require the Welsh Government to divert millions of pounds away from other priorities to fund a UK Government commitment.
“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.”