Prime Minister Theresa May is holding talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to find a way forward for her Brexit deal, which has been rejected three times by MPs. Mrs May’s spokesman said working groups from both sides were pressing on with the talks this week, including holding a meeting to discuss financial services. But some Brexiteers are concerned about Mr Corbyn’s involvement, as the Labour Party is keen for a customs union arrangement with the EU, which would mean goods travelling across national borders inside it without paying tariffs.
Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor, believes Brexit is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the UK to start its own trading policy and leave the EU single market.
He is pushing for the government to create free trade zones in the UK post-Brexit, which would mean goods would not be subject to customs duty.
Mr Houchen says these zones, also known as free ports, will increase manufacturing and international trade faster through tariff and tax incentives.
He said to Express.co.uk: “Leaving the European Union provides the UK with a once in a lifetime opportunity to forge our own trading policy as Global Britain, unlocking the opportunities of international trade and the jobs that will come with it.
“Free ports have been proven highly successful around the world, but would be most beneficial to the UK when we’re outside of the EU, and a free port in the Tees Valley would be truly transformational for our local economy.
“Today we’re not simply competing with Manchester, Birmingham or Stoke, we’re competing with Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa.
“A free port in our region will allow us to attract global companies, many of which will come here because we have a Free Port or go elsewhere in the world – taking the investment and jobs with them.”
Mr Houchen added a free port, which could be built on the closed down SSI Steelworks site, along the south bank of the River Tees, could create thousands of jobs for those who faced unemployment when the steel plant closed in 2015.
He said: “The work we’ve done shows that a free port covering the South Tees Development Corporation site could add £2billion to our local economy and create 12,000 jobs.
“This is on top of the 20,000 that will be created over the next 25 years through the Development Corporation’s redevelopment of the former SSI steelworks site.”
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party is set to demand a clear timetable for Mrs May’s departure but will not change the rules governing leadership challenges, the chair of the party’s influential 1922 Committee said on Wednesday.
May survived a confidence vote in December and under the party’s rules cannot be challenged again for 12 months.
But many of the party’s lawmakers and members have become increasingly frustrated over her handling of Brexit and have called for a way to force her out sooner.
The executive of the 1922 Committee, which groups Conservative lawmakers, met on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday to discuss whether to change the leadership rules.
Sir Graham Brady, the committee’s chair, told reporters after the meeting: “We determined there should not be a rule change to remove the 12 month period of grace during which a second confidence vote cannot be held.”
May has said she will step down if her Brexit deal is passed by parliament but has not set out what she will do if it is not.
Sir Graham said the committee would ask May for “a clear roadmap” for her departure if a Brexit deal is not approved.