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Freeports: Tories warn SNP-Green deal threatens harbour plans

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Ports around the UK are eyeing up freeport plans.

Hopes of securing special tax status harbours in locations such as Aberdeen and Dundee could be dashed because of disagreements between the SNP and Greens in government, Tories claim.

Talks between the Scottish and UK governments are already strained and dragging on long after “freeports” were agreed in England.

The internationally recognised sites are usually set up at harbours or airports with the ability to defer tax until products are moved on.

The SNP is trying to hammer out its preferred “greenports” version but is stuck in negotiations over the name, number of ports and some details of working practices and funding.

‘Tax dodging’

Their new Green coalition partners previously described the policy as “state sponsored tax dodging with no place in a progressive Scotland”.

We have a disagreement about whether that’s of any real value to our society.

– Patrick Harvie

Port authorities already bidding for the status are Cromarty Firth, Aberdeen, Peterhead, Dundee, Grangemouth and Leith – all hoping to create and protect jobs in the regional economy.

The UK Government is now privately concerned the protracted talks on getting one or more of the ports in Scotland could be in jeopardy.

‘Wrong-headed attack’

Conservatives claimed the Greens have already shifted SNP opinion on oil and gas, so might do the same with ports.

Insiders slated what they called a “wrongheaded attack” from Mr Harvie during a press conference announcing the government deal with Ms Sturgeon in Edinburgh

North East Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “The delivery of a freeport was a manifesto commitment from the Conservative Government and would be an invaluable asset to the north-east and Scotland.

“We have already seen Patrick Harvie brag about how he has changed the SNP’s position on oil and gas, which has gone down badly in the north east.

“Valuable time has already been lost to the usual SNP swithering.”

Patrick Harvie, left, with Nicola Sturgeon and Lorna Slater at Bute House

Under the terms of the new partnership government deal at Holyrood, Green ministers Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater secured the right to continue their opposition to the plan.

Speaking alongside the First Minister on August 20, Mr Harvie said: “I think from the Green point of view we still see it as fundamentally built on top of the freeport model, which is essentially about exempting certain types of economic activity from the tax base and from planning and environmental regulations in some cases.

“So, we have a disagreement about whether that’s of any real value to our society.”

Why are freeports taking so long?

We revealed in March that Tories were prepared to step in and set up if an agreement is not reached with Holyrood ministers.

The suggestion Westminster could take over infuriated the SNP government and raised concerns about attitudes to devolution.

Scottish Government trade minister Ivan McKee, left, and UK Government Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.

Talks involving Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack rumbled on with both sides claiming a breakthrough was near in July.

At the end of the month, the SNP government announced it was taking notes of interest from bidders.

The Scottish Government says its plan would boost innovation and growth, uphold the highest environmental protection and contribute to a “net zero”, greener economy.

‘Race to the bottom’

In a statement, Mr McKee said he is waiting for clarity from the UK Government.

“With clear industry support for our green port proposals, we hope UK ministers will work with us to find a fair and sustainable way forward including a funding package on a par with that which was offered in England,” he added.

Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “Free ports are a consequence of the Tory Brexit and the UK Government’s naked desire to chip away at workers rights, high regulatory standards and environment protections.

“The Scottish Greens will work to ensure any options for Scottish ports take no part in the Tory race to the bottom.

Read more: The political row and ‘threat’ to Scottish devolution

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