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Freeports have been proposed by the Government with the aim of giving ports special tax-free status to help improve post-Brexit trade. But the Scottish Government has said it may not support Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for the UK’s future relationship with the EU after the transition period ends next month. The First Minister has made it clear she thinks freeports are not “any substitute for being a full member of the single market, which the Conservatives are of course ripping us out of against our will”.
However, Mrs Sturgeon has been criticised over her reluctance over fears this could put Scotland at an “economic disadvantage” for the sake of gaining support for the SNP.
A Twitter user wrote: “Serious question: why is Nicola Sturgeon reluctant to allow Scotland to have freeports – so putting us at an economic disadvantage with UK
a) A successful Scotland based on a UK initiative would swing the vote against SNP?
b) Reapplying to join the EU would be not possible?”
Scottish port bosses also claimed they think the Scottish Government may “reject” the proposals.
Simon Brebner, vice chairman of the Scottish Ports group and chief executive of the Peterhead Port Authority, said: “Free ports have the ability to transform both ports and regions to solve a generation of new challenges that we have.
“The government has confirmed the bidding process and it will be opening shortly.”
He added he has not been given “any assurances” that Scotland will be part of the free port plan.
He said: “The UK Government will work with devolved administration in Scotland and we await next steps as to what will happen.
“At this stage, in our discussions with Scottish Government, we haven’t been given any assurances that they will take part in the free port process.
“In fact, they have said they might even reject the free port opportunity.”
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Last month, Tory MSP Peter Chapman also asked Sturgeon about the SNP’s reluctance over free ports during First Minister’s Questions.
He said this stance was a “reckless position” and showed a “total lack of ambition for the Scottish economy”.
However, the First Minister said: “Let the Conservatives tell us exactly what they mean about free ports, how they will work and whether they are anything other than a race to the bottom.
“We will of course listen to and support anything that is in the interest of Scotland.
“What is absolutely against that interest right now is the Tories’ obsession with Brexit, and their determination to drag us out of the single market and the European Union and to potentially leave the transition period with no deal.”
The SNP’s Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee said: “Free ports cannot and will not offset the damage caused by Brexit, which is taking Scotland and the UK out of the world’s biggest free trade area and single market.
“Our ambition for Scotland’s economy is to continue to build a high productivity, high wage, innovative economy built on the strength of our world leading technology, businesses and academic clusters. This is the focus of our inward investment strategies.
“We remain concerned that the focus of free ports may be positioned to compete on low cost, low wage, low value opportunities with which they are often associated globally.
“In Scotland, we have our own approach to developing and growing the economy and we will want to ensure that the UK Government’s proposals for free ports can be made to work with our ambition for a low carbon and wellbeing economy, that also targets investment geographically and strategically.
“We are also determined to ensure a green recovery from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, with new, clean and green jobs being created.
“Now that more details of the UK governments proposals are available we will be surveying the views of stakeholders and partners in the public and private sectors across Scotland in the coming days, and the results of this survey will be crucial in informing our response.”
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