Grangemouth touted as post-Brexit ‘free port’ haven

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Grangemouth could become one of a select number of UK “free ports” in the aftermath of Brexit, bringing new opportunities and fresh jobs.

That is one scenario political analysts are talking up as Prime Minister Boris Johnston continues his last ditch attempts to clinch a deal with the EU by October 31.

While local and national SNP politicians warn of the perceived dangers of a no-deal Brexit the Scottish Government is said to be keeping an open brief on the idea of tax-free havens.

However meanwhile local politicians - and Ineos - have warned about the possible effects of zero import tariffs on profitability.

In a flurry of Scottish national news stories this weekend politicians and lobbyists around the country are already seen to be jockeying for position in the imagined future, with north-east Tory MP Ross Thomson insisting Aberdeen must be given special status if such a scheme wins the go-ahead.

The debate has been fuelled by Mr Johnston’s desire to boost trade by opening up what many argue amount to tax-free havens, where goods would be exempt for normal tariffs.

North of the border Forth Ports assets, including Grangemouth, are said to be in the frame as likely candidates for the free port idea, while SNP MP Douglas Chapman is reportedly studying the suitability of Rosyth in his constituency.

However the EU takes a negative view of the idea, arguing such an arrangement would risk a surge in crime and money-laundering.

According to a report in the Herald newspaper, the Scottish Government is keeping its powder dry until the Brexit crisis is resolved - although it maintains the best way to keep tariff-free access is to remain in the EU.

But it is said to be happy to “discuss” plans for free ports, while cautioning that the idea cannot be properly evaluated until the UK Government spells out how these might work.

Earlier this week Forth Ports chief executive Charles Hammond told the Scotsman newspaper free ports could be a “useful tool” in growing trade, but would have to be part of a wider scheme designed to help import and export businesses.

The firm is said to be weighing up the possibility of applications for ports including its biggest, Tilbury, Grangemouth, Leith and Dundee.

Meanwhile Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald fears the removal of import tariffs in a no-deal Brexit could attract cheap fuel from Russia and elsewhere, which could impact on Grangemouth’s PetroIneos refinery.

His argument echoes claims in the UK Government’s leaked Yellowhammer report that refineries could be hit by closures, strikes and fuel shortages as the UK begins to rely on cheap imports.

Mr MacDonald said: “I have written to Derek Mackay to highlight the impact a zero tariff on the import of fuel would have on the Grangemouth Refinery and the workforce here.

“I will also ask my MP colleagues – Martyn Day and John McNally – to raise the issue in the House of Commons upon their return from summer recess”.

PetroIneos has said a proposed zero tariff on world imports creates a “negative potential impact” for UK refiners.