A Brexit minister will visit Grimsby and Immingham to discuss the possibility of establishing a free port in the Humber.
Brexit minister Suella Braverman – a major player in the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum – was set to visit the ports of Grimsby and Immingham on Friday afternoon to discuss the proposition with Associated British Ports (ABP) chiefs.
The junior minister will also open the new £5.2 million Humber Marine Control Centre at the Port of Grimsby during her trip to North East Lincolnshire.
Grimsby hit the headlines last year when the town’s seafood processing industry raised the prospect of establishing customs-free zones around the Humber’s ports– effectively granting an exemption from possible Brexit import and export taxes.
ABP are major backers of free ports status with Simon Bird, the Humber director, raising the concept with ministers during recent visits to the Houses of Parliament.
Cabinet ministers have also hinted at their support, with Trade Secretary Liam Fox suggesting the Government will look at the detail.
Free port status would exempt goods coming in and out of Immingham and Grimsby from being taxed, meaning the threat of tariffs after Brexit on imports into the region – including coal, biofuels, cars and seafood – would fail to materialise.
It is a concept that exists across the world already, with countries as diverse as China, USA, Ireland and Nigeria adopting free ports or enterprise zones, as they are sometimes known.
Mrs Braverman, speaking before the visit, predicted the ports of Grimsby and Immingham would have an “increasingly important role to play” after the UK has exited the European Union.
“The ports of Grimsby and Immingham are of great importance to our economy, contributing thousands of jobs and billions of pounds to our economy,” said the Conservative minister.
“Great British ports like these will have an increasingly important role to play as we leave the EU and take back control of our trade policy.
“I have no doubt that they will rise to the challenge and take full advantage of the opportunities made possible by Brexit.”
Martin Vickers, MP for Cleethorpes, is leading the push in Westminster for a free port trial to be established on the south bank of the Humber.
The Eurosceptic Tory enlisted the support of a big Government hitter to the cause last week when Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury and former environment secretary, agreed to meet the backbench MP to discuss free ports.
Mr Vickers said: “There is a head of steam with this now. ABP has done a lot on it and now we have the minister, Suella Braverman, visiting.
“She is visiting ABP and to talk about free ports. She has been well briefed by local businesses that they are enthusiastic about it.”
Teesside has been tipped as the front-runner in the race to trial the free port concept and Mr Vickers has raised with ministers the inequality the Humber faces in rivalling the North East port.The Teesside region has an elected mayor after voting for mayoral devolution – a model Lincolnshire rejected in 2016.
Mr Vickers has called on ministers to hand fresh powers to local authorities to ensure areas without regional mayors do not miss out.
“For economic regeneration, we need strong local leadership and powers for local authorities,” said the ex-Scartho councillor.
“Areas like North East Lincolnshire are competing against mayoral areas with greater powers and resources for economic development so it is not a level playing field.