AS the North-East remains a front runner to obtain a freeport after Brexit, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson explains why he believes the frictionless benefits of EU membership are much greater.

AS the spectre of a no-deal Brexit looms large in the nation’s headlights, the consequences of crashing out of the EU is making business uneasy, holidaymakers are paying more for their well-deserved holiday abroad, economists are fretting and small businesses worry about cashflow.

To distract us from the direction of travel the government is taking, extra money has been promised for more police, prisoner places and the NHS. Not all of it is new money and comes no where near the £6bn set aside to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

For the government to have put aside such an extraordinary amounts for Brexit preparations shows the driver expects some major bumps along the road and potholes too deep to navigate. Surely the passengers also have the right to ask what else the money could be spent on other than Brexit.

As part of the distractions, there is talk of establishing freeports around the country. 10 in total, with one possibly on Teesside. The attraction of a freeport is that goods will be tariff free, as long as the goods don’t leave the freeport area and move further into the UK.

They can be manufactured into something and then exported without facing tariffs here, but would face tariffs where they are exported. In the case of the North East, more often than not, that is Europe.

At present, because we are still in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, the UK does not pay any tariffs and because, as part of the EU we are rule makers not ruler takers, we also have a say in the development of any regulations. And that goes for any export to Europe from any where in the North East.

Although a freeport on the river Tees may appeal to Brexiteers because it involves the word ‘free’, the concept does not compare with the free and easy access North East exporters have to the EU at present. The notion of a freeport is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue of maintaining frictionless access to the North East’s largest export market.

Although I accept business is sympathetic to the notion of a freeport if Brexit goes ahead, I also know they understand the far greater merits of the existing seamless trade our region enjoys with the European Union and they do not want to lose it.

Rachel Anderson, assistant director of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, who said at the time of the freeports announcement they were something to consider if Brexit happened.

But she also warned: "Our members have been clear that their preference would be to stay in the Single Market and Custom Union as that is the best option for frictionless trade with our biggest market in the EU.”

The Chamber of Commerce is right and understands the importance of the 60 per cent plus trade the North-East has with the EU which supports 150,000 jobs in our region.

I want to keep that trade and I want to keep those jobs. And I will not be distracted. Freeports will not replace what we have. The irony is, freeports already exist in the EU.

The legislation for freeports in the UK expired in 2012, under this government. The idea of freeports has been reheated to look like a panacea for our Brexit woes, but it is not.

Even the boss of PD Ports said although a freeport could be a ‘catalyst’, he went on to say "will it offset the disbenefits of leaving the EU as some people would say? I don’t know.’ Boris Johnson may call him a ‘gloomster’ for being so honest. I don’t.

I believe he’s a realist, and I welcome his honesty. He identifies the leap in the dark we are all expected to take, whether we like it or not.

And no one voted for a no-deal Brexit in 2016. Freeports seem to be an attempt to reinvent the wheel, I believe Boris Johnson will discover his new invention will not be as round as the original.

I can assure Boris Johnson I’m not a ‘gloomster’ either. I refuse to talk our region down and neither will I let the Prime Minister pull the wool over our eyes. What is now required is more honesty, not distraction.

If we are to leave the EU without a deal, or even with a deal, it is a leap in the dark. Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage are wealthy enough to land on the other side with their feet planted firmly on the ground whatever happens. Most of my constituents are not.

That is why the people should have the final say and confirm, one way or another, what happens next in a confirmatory ballot on the issue.