AIRPORTS such as Bournemouth’s should become “free ports” offering trade without tariffs after Brexit, its owner has said.

Andrew Bell, chief executive of Regional & City Airports – which bought the Bournemouth site last year – is calling on the government and the aviation industry to back the idea.

Free ports are designated areas where tariffs are discounted or waived altogether. Membership of the European Union has meant tariff-free trade within Europe, but member states cannot tariffs of their own.

Speaking at the annual Airport Operators Association conference, Mr Bell said: “What is clear is that following our departure from the European Union, the UK government should have the ability to establish its own trade and customs policy.

“This freedom includes the ability to set tariffs, including different duty rates for certain goods, or in certain areas.

“Within that there is the option to create ‘free ports’ – where goods entering and exiting a designated zone would not be subject to any tariffs or, if they are, can be offered at a discounted rate.

“Anywhere can be selected as a free port and Britain’s regional airports offer a compelling case.

“Designating regional airports as free ports would also attract new investment into local areas and further the government’s own goal of addressing the geographical imbalance in economic growth.

“We have had the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine so why not the Regional Airports Accelerator?”

Countries which already have free ports include the US, the Middle Eastern city states and Singapore. There around 3,500 such ports worldwide.

Mr Bell added: “According to the Centre for Policy Study’s research on free ports, even applied to just to the UK’s biggest northern ports, the policy would create 86,000 jobs, provide a much needed boost to the manufacturing sector, as well as boost productivity and wages.

“If the free port initiative were applied to regional airports, these effects, already measured for the north, could be expanded to communities across the country.”

As well as Bournemouth, Regional & City Airports owns airports at Coventry, Exeter and Norwich, and operates Blackpool, City of Derry and Solent airports for their owners.

Sangeeta Khorana, professor of economics at Bournemouth University, who specialises in trade agreements, said: “The proposal to have free ports after Brexit is based on the rationale that free ports would potentially encourage inward investment (by manufacturing firms and logistics providers) and employment at UK ports and airports.

“Having said this, a reality check of ‘free ports’ readiness in the UK is imperative,” she added.

“To be able to successfully implement this idea, it is important to have a clear government policy on: customs declarations, airport and ports infrastructure development, and support to increase road and warehouse infrastructure post Brexit.”