GOVERNMENT plans to convert harbours into “free ports” without import tax have been rubbished by a trade expert.

The Conservatives have pledged to create ten such ports in the UK after Brexit in a bid to boost business around dockyards by cutting or eliminating tariffs which companies pay to import their goods.

Harbours are being encouraged to apply for the scheme, including Shoreham and Newhaven ports.

But University of Sussex expert Peter Holmes said the Government’s plans were “completely pointless” as most goods coming into the UK are not taxed anyway.

“Free ports were a good idea in the 19th century when there were high tariffs,” the reader in economics said.

“But there’s a reason we got rid of all of ours in 2012 and that’s because we didn’t need them because tariffs are so low now.

“So if we create free ports, the Government will also need to cut regulations and increase subsidies in these areas to bring companies in, which could go against international trade rules.”

Mr Holmes said there was no cheap way to boost business in ports like Newhaven and Shoreham.

And he said converting docks into free ports could become costly.

“If you wanted to convert Newhaven into a free port, you would need to do double the customs checks it does now,” he said.

“One would need to inspect goods coming into the port to make sure nothing illegal is being imported.

“And another site would be needed to check goods being exported.

“The reality is no cheap and easy way of boosting ports has been found yet, because if it had been found we would already be doing it.”

And Mr Holmes raised concerns over whether lax rules in free ports could lead to exploitation.

“The point of free ports is all goods coming inside the ports aren’t in UK customs, but what about the people in the ports?” he asked.

“There is potential for migrant workers to be exploited in these ports, even if no one has proposed using migrant labour in these ports.”

A Department for International Trade spokeswoman said free ports would bring “a wide range of benefits”.

She said: “We will have the opportunity to introduce a more ambitious free port model that creates jobs, increases competitiveness and regenerates areas.”