Freeports

Why did Michael Gove suggest that freeports were a benefit of Brexit?

One of the mainstays of the Brexit campaign was the desire for ‘sovereignty’ and ‘taking back control’. But there are freeports all over Europe already. What’s going on?

When Michael Gove tried to clarify on the BBC’s Today programme on 28 December 2020 what that means, he referred to the UK’s ability to set up ‘freeports’. That made me start. There are freeports all over Europe already. What’s more, the UK used to have freeports, but the last one was closed in 2012. 

So as it was already possible to create freeports, why the need for Brexit? It turns out that freeports are a bit dodgy. Back in 2019, following a report on tax evasion and money laundering, the European Parliament called for them to be scrapped. 

According to the Institute for Government, freeports provide operators ‘with a safe and widely disregarded storage space where trade can be conducted untaxed, and ownership can be concealed’. This lack of scrutiny on imports means that high-value items like art, for example, can be bought and easily stored without the kind of check and controls they could normally face. 

A 2016 article in the Art Newspaper also linked freeports to art crime. “Freeports now harbour art worth billions of dollars – some of it of questionable provenance., said Daniel Brazier, a special agent at the US Department of Homeland Security. “It is easy to create shell companies that obscure the link to the real owner. The lack of transparency makes it difficult for us to do our job.” So something like a tax haven then? An area that the EU is also keen to clean up.

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Project details

Client

Kent Bylines

Date

January 2021