Brexit threat to Welsh ports: Minister demands ‘straight answers’ from UK Government
The Welsh Government wants ‘broad agreement’ on support for Britain’s under-threat ports, says economy minister Vaughan Gething.
Trade to and from Ireland to Welsh ports has collapsed since January – down by between a quarter and a third.
At the Welsh Parliament on Wednesday, Joyce Watson, Labour regional Senedd Member for Mid and West Wales, asked what Wales was doing to protect its ports.
Joyce Watson MS said:
“Truckers travelling to and from Ireland are increasingly met by delays and bureaucracy, leading some to bypass Welsh ports, and we’ve seen a significant decrease in year-on-year volume.
Mrs Watson also expressed doubt about so called freeports, saying:
“(Freeports were) proposed in ‘Britannia Unchained’, the 2012 manifesto for turning the UK into a low-tax, deregulated economy, written by right-wing members of the current Tory-Brexit Government, and the Prime Minister just happened to receive a £25,000 donation from Bristol port too, so I’m sceptical of the policy, to say the least.”
A freeport is an area within a country’s geographic border, but outside its customs area – so goods can be imported into, or exported out of, a freeport without incurring duty or taxes. The UK had seven freeports between 1984 and 2012, including one in Cardiff.
Critics argue they merely relocate jobs and economic growth, rather than create them, benefiting freeport areas at the expense of other areas. They also fear deregulation might harm environmental and labour standards, and could make illegal activities like money laundering and tax evasion easier.
At the Budget, in March, the UK Treasury announced eight new freeports for England. It has yet to present an offer to establish one in Wales, however, despite Welsh Government requests.
Responding to Joyce’s question, Vaughan Gething claimed the threat to Welsh ports was not just Brexit ‘teething problems’:
“We have real challenges in this area, as Joyce Watson highlights. We have a reduction of about a quarter to a third of activity through our ports. Now, that’s not just an issue in Holyhead; it’s certainly a big issue for the trade with the island of Ireland that comes through south-west Wales as well, through the ports in Pembrokeshire. So, this is an issue I have raised repeatedly in engagements with the UK Government to understand that this doesn’t appear to be a passing matter; it’s certainly not just a matter of teething problems.
“Through the rest of this summer, there’s going to be quite intensive engagement between the Welsh Government and all other Governments within the UK and the European Union as we look to see what happens following the free trade deal that’s been agreed. There’s quite a lot that’s still left to agree, and that will have a real impact on the viability and the future of ports across the UK, but particularly here in Wales, where people are looking to avoid the bridge that previously existed between the island of Ireland and our ports here in Wales.
“It’s a matter of real concern to me, and I’d like to see, as we look to create border control posts in Wales, as a direct consequence of Brexit—we need to have those in place, because of the extra checks that we need to undertake as a third country—that we actually have a broader agreement on how we’re going to support ports and the economic activity that goes through them. That requires some straight answers from the UK Government, as well as clarity on the in-principle things they say they are prepared to do to support ports in the short, medium and longer term as well.”