Boris Johnson claimed at Prime Minister’s Questions that Brexit “has given us the freedom to establish eight freeports across the country”.
As the independent think-tank, the Institute for Government, explains: “freeports are a special kind of port where normal tax and customs rules do not apply. These can be airports as well as maritime ports.”
And the IfG makes clear: “the UK could create freeports as a member of the EU”.
As of 2020, there were 80 “free zones” in the EU across 21 member countries. And even during its time as a member of the trading bloc, the UK also had its own freeports, including in Liverpool and Glasgow. In total the UK had seven freeports in the period 1984 to 2012.
It’s not the first time senior members of the government have been challenged on their claims about freeports and the EU.
In 2019, Boris Johnson claimed “the UK does not have free ports because of its membership of the EU”. The BBC’s Reality Check team reported that this was incorrect.
And in the same year, Rishi Sunak said: “The EU is the only place where these [free ports] really don’t exist”. The fact-checking charity Full Fact pointed out that there are freeports in the EU, though they are more limited than they would be in other parts of the world owing to the trade bloc’s rules on state aid. So the word “really” gave Mr Sunak some more wriggle room.
But unlike his Downing Street neighbour, Boris Johnson put no such caveat on yesterday’s claim.
A government spokesperson told FactCheck:
“Leaving the EU means that we have an opportunity to do things differently. We have developed an ambitious new Freeport model to ensure that towns and cities across the UK will benefit from fantastic new international trade opportunities, attracting new investment and employment in left behind communities across the UK.
“Freeports will be national hubs for international trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK by attracting new businesses, spreading jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities up and down the country.”