SNP accused of ‘playing political games’ and spouting ‘nonsense’ in Brexit trade plot

Rishi Sunak discusses freeports announcement

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Boris Johnson wants to bring forward plans for freeports, areas with different customs rules in a bid to turbocharge the UK economy after Britain left the EU. They are designed to be innovation clusters that boost the economy by offering tax breaks for investment in jobs and infrastructure.

But Scottish ministers have put forward a different concept north of the border known as “green ports” which are similar to the freeport set up but with restrictions to promote a reduction in emissions.

As Mr Johnson announced his levelling up agenda this week which includes the freeports concept, Scotland’s Trade Minister Ivan McKee warned the UK Government not to roll out the model across Scotland.

The Scottish Minister said such a move would be seen as legislating in a devolved area and he stressed such a move would be a “breach of the spirit of the devolution settlement” without reaching an agreement with SNP led Scottish Government ministers first.

Mr McKee, along with Welsh counterparts, also demanded clarity on funding for the freeport model as both devolved administrations fear being short-changed on this, when compared to the funding being made available for freeports in England.

The UK Government branded the claims from the Scottish Government “nonsense”.

A source added: “Rather than work constructively with us on creating much-needed jobs in Scotland, the Scottish Government would rather waste time playing political games.”

Mr McKee, however, insisted the funding proposed by Westminster is “unfair and disadvantages ports in Scotland compared to their competitors in England”.

In a letter to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, he claimed the model proposed by Westminster would see UK ministers decide the location of freeports in Scotland, only for the capital funding to come from Holyrood’s budget.

In the letter, he added: “Collaboration and joint working across devolved and reserved competencies requires joint decision making, and I would ask that you reconsider this position and agree to joint determination, or I must conclude that you are making an offer that you wish us to reject.”

Welsh finance minister Rebecca Evans said the Government in Cardiff had “consistently attempted to engage constructively with the UK Government and reach agreement on a way of implementing freeports in Wales which is consistent with our priorities and values as a Government”.

She added: “The UK Government is pressuring the Welsh Government to redirect its resources to deliver a UK Government policy priority.

“This approach is unacceptable to us, and we have made clear that the UK Government needs to demonstrate the same level of financial commitment to freeports in Wales as they have in England.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged he would “strengthen the sinews” of the Union by funding more Scottish infrastructure as part of his levelling up agenda.

Mr Johnson claimed the UK was “squandering” the potential of its population and could succeed only if local leadership took decisions and pushed investment in their areas.

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