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Senedd Tories back freeport as Welsh Secretary says he’ll overrule Welsh Gov

11 Mar 2021 4 minute read
MV Stena Superfast X leaving Holyhead. Picture by Reading Tom (CC BY 2.0)

Senedd Tories have backed a plan for Wales to get a freeport, as the Welsh Secretary said he was ready to overrule the Welsh Government.

Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy, Russell George MS, warmly welcomed reports that Wales the plan, in the wake suggestions by the Secretary of Wales the UK Government has the right to press ahead without Mark Drakeford’s cooperation.

Hart said it was disappointing a deal has not been struck with the Welsh Government but said it will go ahead “come what may”.

The Welsh Government says it is calling for joint decision making on the issue and that it wrote to the UK Government in early February to outline its position and concerns, but that it has not yet received a response.

Mark Drakeford has expressed concerns that English freeports could displace economic activity from Wales.

It is also understood that there disagreements over the impact the introduction of freeports will have on the Welsh Government’s ‘fair work’ and environmental goals.

Russell George has criticised the Welsh Government for “dragging its heels” and told it to “embrace such a dynamic plan”.

He said: “Freeports will generate jobs, trade and innovation, and I welcome the fact that Wales is set to get one from the UK Government.

“Given this announcement will undoubtedly attract investment from around the world, I find reports of the Welsh Labour Government dragging its heels over this positive plan—and in the same breath insisting that the UK Government pick up the whole tab—very concerning.

“I fear Welsh Labour Government Ministers are playing party politics. Instead, I urge them to embrace such a dynamic plan.

“A freeport for Wales reveals that the UK Government is delivering on its pledge to build back better than ever before.”

‘Ability to proceed’ 

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.”

In response to Hart’s comments 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.”

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