The UK’s new prime minister Boris Johnson, who took office on 24 July following the previous incumbent Theresa May’s failure to find a majority in Parliament for her withdrawal agreement with the EU, has reiterated his plans to develop free ports across the UK in his first full day in office.

“We will have the free ports to revitalise our coastal communities,” said Mr Johnson in his first prime ministerial statement to the House of Commons, to cheers from fellow Conservative MPs.

Advertisement

However, Mr Johnson’s hopes will only be realisable if the UK leaves the EU, because free port development is “almost impossible” when still under the jurisdiction of the EU Customs Union and EU State Aid laws, according to a Centre for Policy Studies report

Free ports, more generically known as free zones, are one way countries can promote investment and economic activity through offering foreign investors favourable tax conditions, customs duties and regulatory requirements. Other forms include enterprise zones, which were first launched in the UK in 2012 as a means to promote investment in the north of England to restore a UK region once abundant with industrial jobs. 

In a previous announcement while at a meeting in Belfast, as reported by the Guardian, Mr Johnson claimed “there will be about six of them, we will be doing free ports”. Proponents of free ports often point to research from consultancy and construction group Mace that claims the integration of free ports with enterprise zones would add £9bn to the economy of northern England as well as creating 150,000 high-value jobs.

Mr Johnson was optimistic throughout his first address to MPs as prime minister, asserting that the UK “will be the seed bed for the most exciting and most dynamic business investments on the planet”. 

Nonetheless, European leaders have outright rejected his demand for the “abolition” of the controversial Irish border backstop which is central to Theresa May’s deal with the EU. The new PM has repeatedly pledged to get the country out the EU with or without a deal by October 31.