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Freeports: SNP accuse UK Government of ‘damaging’ delay

Aberdeen Harbour.
Aberdeen Harbour.

The SNP has demanded talks on freeports with special tax status in Scotland are unlocked by the start of next week in a bitter stand-off with the UK Government.

Scotland’s trade minister, Ivan McKee, threatened the deadline as officials failed to make progress.

We revealed last week how Conservatives at Westminster were prepared to step in and take over the scheme themselves if agreement is not reached with Holyrood, sparking another “power grab” row.

Freeport status allows authorities to defer paying tax until products are moved on. Aberdeen has been touted as one of two potential locations in Scotland.

UK ministers are understood to be unhappy with Scottish proposals to badge them “green ports”, as well as suggesting there could be just one north of the border.

Mr McKee raised the stakes on Thursday with his deadline demand.

freeports SNP
SNP government minister Ivan McKee is demanding freeports talks.

‘Race to the bottom’

He said: “Regrettably, it would now appear that there is a lack of willingness on the part of the UK Government to sign up to our green port ambitions on fair work and net zero, and we have to assume that they are not as committed as we are to protecting workers rights; protecting the environment; and getting on with action to drive economic recovery.”

Mr McKee said the Scottish Government will not “engage in a race to the bottom on “fair work” guidelines and environmental standards.

He added: “As we are now fast approaching the start of the pre-election period in Scotland on March 25, there is the real prospect of a potentially damaging delay until after the Scottish election in May.

“Therefore, if we do not have confirmation that the UK Government are ready to launch the Applicant Prospectus by close of business on Monday March 22, we may have to conclude that the UK Government has effectively withdrawn from this process.”

It is important that Scotland does not get left behind.”

UK Government source

Last week we revealed how Tory ministers were growing impatient.

A UK Government source said: “If we are not able to reach agreement on the details, we’ve been very clear that the UK Government will press ahead with rolling out the freeports programme to Scotland.

“There is a huge amount of interest across Scotland and a massive potential boost to the Scottish economy.

“For that reason, we want to move quickly. A number of freeport locations in England were announced in the Budget and it is important that Scotland does not get left behind.”

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