WHILE Westminster politicians were at each other’s throats over the EU Withdrawal Bill last week, I was also in London making sure our voice was heard in the Brexit negotiations.

Ahead of the crucial vote in Parliament last Monday, I wrote to all our local MPs and asked them to respect the mandate of the local people they represent. I thank the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland's Simon Clarke MP and Hartlepool’s Mike Hill MP for listening to the people backing a proper exit from the EU.

Whatever the final outcome of the Government’s negotiations, my focus is on getting the best for the people of the Tees Valley.

With England’s other mayors, I was invited to the Department for Exiting the European Union for a series of discussions with minister Suella Braverman. While there, we got the latest update on Brexit talks, and I had the opportunity to set out our regional priorities.

The first was to make sure that we in the Tees Valley will truly feel the benefits of the massive amount of power and money that will be transferred back to the UK when we leave. The Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund – to replace cash from the EU – needs to be put into the hands of those who need it most and not retained to fill Whitehall’s coffers.

Remember, this is British taxpayer cash recycled back to us from Brussels. It’s only right that locally accountable politicians are given the powers and resource to improve the lives of local people.

Last week also saw the publication of a report by global construction firm Mace Group which showed a Free Zone at Tees Port could be a huge boost for the region’s economy. The report stated that, when combined with Enterprise Zones, more than 17,500 jobs could be created, with an economic benefit of £1.1bn. This is a big “could” – and I’m always sceptical about those large numbers – but this report shows that our campaign is gathering momentum.

It also demonstrated the 50 business leaders and influential individuals that backed my Free Port bid in January were not alone in recognising its potential. Polling shows that in the North-East, 84% of people back a Free Port, which only strengthened my case to Government. In the face of such support, it is surely just a matter of time before we see movement.

But what is a Free Port without successful businesses to underpin it? Vital sectors such as chemicals are crucial to our region, so I sought assurances that our industry would not be adversely affected following our exit from the EU. The Government rightly signalled its intention to keep the necessary regulations in place that cover our industry.

Our area voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, so let’s get on with creating the best opportunities for success in a post-Brexit world – this brave new world is just nine months away.

Ben Houchen is the directly elected Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley