Simon Hart claims colleagues of Mark Drakeford ‘mystified’ by his opposition to working with UK Gov on tax free port
The Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has said that Welsh Government colleagues of the First Minister are “mystified” by his opposition to a tax free port in Wales.
Eight English ports are being granted controversial tax breaks – to “generate trade and jobs”, the chancellor has claimed – at a cost of £200m, in what has been hailed as a benefit from Brexit.
But Simon Hart said the Welsh Government “don’t want to come to the party” on the subject of setting up a freeport in Wales, and that he was happy to overrule them and go ahead with one anyway.
Speaking to the Welsh Affairs Committee he said that he would be justified in overruling the Welsh Government as it was a “manifesto commitment”.
In response a Welsh Government spokesperson said that it’s “deeply disappointing” that the UK Government have failed to “bring forward firm proposals for Wales” despite freeports being launched in England.
The spokesperson added that “any Welsh Freeport must receive the same financial support as the English sites”.
Simon Hart said: “I would urge colleagues of the First Minister who are less ideologically opposed – and some of them are – I’ve spoken to some of them in fact. They’re as mystified as I am, and I hope we can get back around the table.”
He added that it was a “tragedy” that Mark Drakeford wasn’t willing to go along with a freeport. “I think jobs are being lost to English freeports and I think it’s an ideological resistance,” Simon Hart said.
“It’s mystifying and I think it is political. We reserve the right and we would much rather not, as some colleagues would be pleased to hear, but we reserve the right to go down the route of a reserved freeport. We’ll do that if we have to – this is a manifesto commitment.
“I’ve said before in front of this committee that it’s a case of when not if. There’s always room for manoeuvre in these things but we’ve attempted to be as open for business as we can on this particular issue and I very hope we can persuade Welsh Government.
“It’ll be Michael Gove trying to persuade Welsh Government to re-enter the ring.
“The clock is ticking. The displacement argument that investment to Wales may be being lost to England is a very real threat.
Yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said that freeports would fail to boost the UK economy.
“We have assumed that the main effect of the freeports will be to alter the location rather than the volume of economic activity,” its report says.
“So the costs have been estimated on the basis of activity being displaced from elsewhere.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government have launched Freeports in England while failing to bring forward firm proposals for Wales.
“We have been clear that any Welsh Freeport must receive the same financial support as the English sites and that joint decision making is in place to ensure smooth delivery across both levels of government. It must be delivered in line with our fair work and climate policies to protect people and our environment.
“The UK government is fully aware it is not possible for one government to deliver this in isolation, and it is unfair to leave Welsh businesses in the dark indefinitely. No formal offer has been presented to the Welsh Government and we continue to urge the UK Government to resolve this as a matter of urgency.”