A recent study, covered in the Financial Times and elsewhere, claims that Freeports will provide negligible economic benefits. This animosity reflects the EU’s dislike, which attracts corresponding resistance to the policy from Remainers. (Cf. A Guardian article about how a freeport at Hull ‘could spell doom for grey seals’.) Freeports offer a way of avoiding the red tape Brussels would like to suffocate us in on the Irish border. If the whole island of Ireland was treated as a free port there would be no need for the Protocol, but Brussels’s preference for protectionism and taxes inhibits it. Moreover, the study from the University of Sussex concentrates on duty savings, dismissing ports’ contribution to ‘levelling up’ as ‘nothing to do with the “port” aspect’. But this is to miss the point. Freeports would be designed to divert shipping from crowded areas, and boost the ports’ vicinities with warehousing, distribution, manufacturing and other services by what’s known as ‘industrial agglomeration’, with potential benefits also accruing from reduced border paperwork.
Freeports have been characterised as ineffective means of economic stimulus in a recent University of Sussex.