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23 January 2018

The Tees Valley relishes the opportunities of Brexit – which is why we want a Free Port in Teesside

by Ben Houchen

Originally published by Brexit Central.

When we leave the EU, Britain will find itself with more freedoms than at any time in almost half a century. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, we need to look to the future and at the opportunities that are ahead.

In June 2016, we were given the opportunity to stand amicably aside from the merger of Europe’s states, to be truly internationalist, and work with our allies through a common market, not a common government. I’m pleased the British people voted the right way. However, for a lot of us Brexiteers, voting to leave the EU wasn’t an end in and of itself. We may have won the battle, but the war is not over.

Some of the people who backed Remain have embarked on a pretty malicious campaign to undermine the democratic will of the people. We’ve seen this manifest itself in calls for a second referendum, and cries for ‘access to the Single Market’ – a con which has been widely accepted as a good thing because it has been marketed as a false dichotomy between trade and no trade. This will be ramped up even further over the coming months.

All of this and much more has led the overall narrative of Brexit to be a negative one – something which in itself could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, damaging Britain’s future prospects.

I represent almost 700,000 people in the Tees Valley – an area that in part voted to Leave more heavily than almost any other place in the UK. The people I’m proud to represent feel that an area like ours was left behind under the Blair and Brown years, and they feel completely disconnected from the economic boom felt in London and the South.

However, there is grit and a natural optimism in places like mine when it comes to Britain’s place in the world. We are and always have been an open, outward-looking part of the world, ready and willing to embrace new opportunities. We led the world during the Industrial Revolution. We created and exported the best that is to be seen in the world – and it was done in places like Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and the wider North.

It is this natural optimism about Britain’s place in the world, and a need to take back control of our own destiny, that drove the Leave vote. And it’s this attitude that should drive our hopes and aspirations for our future relationship with the EU.

That’s why I have written to the Chancellor, with the support of 50 major employers in my area – many of whom are international players and the trade bodies that represent them – calling on the Government to support a Free Port being piloted in Teesside. Companies such as Hitachi Rail, Sirius Minerals, Liberty Steel and Quorn Foods are square behind us exploring this exciting project.

Leaving the EU will enable Britain to capitalise on the Free Port opportunity to attract further investment, jobs and a stronger regional and national economy. Today, the EU Customs Union and EU State Aid laws make this almost impossible.

Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, wrote a compelling paper about it for the Centre for Policy Studies last year. It outlined that many tens of thousands of jobs could be created if the Free Port model was implemented in our islands.

This is not about re-running the arguments of the referendum, but rather demonstrating clear and obvious proposals that will benefit the UK economy once we leave the EU. The Government needs to be stronger and more confident in Britain’s future outside of the EU. To do this we need to start communicating and working up specific proposals that can benefit the people of Britain post-Brexit.

In my letter I call on the Chancellor and the Government to lend their support to this proposal as a demonstration that not only are we trying to rebalance the economy, but that Brexit will help us do it. Let’s start talking about a good Brexit and the benefits it will bring – because there are many.



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