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Chris Grayling incompetence over scrapped ferries contract is ‘off the scale’

The Scotsman logo The Scotsman 12/02/2019
Chris Grayling wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

MPs across the Commons called for Mr Grayling’s resignation after his department scrapped the contract awarded to Seaborne Freight, a firm with no ships, to run extra ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had decided to terminate the contract after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne Freight, stepped away from the deal.

But MPs – including pro-EU Tories – said Mr Grayling should take responsibility for the situation and resign.

Related: Firm with no ships has Brexit ferry contract cancelled

© Sky News

Jeremy Corbyn described the situation as “completely ludicrous”, and in an urgent question in the Commons, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told MPs: “This minister is rewriting the textbook for ministerial incompetence in office.”

Mr McDonald claimed there had been “shortcuts” in the procurement process.

The Transport Secretary responded that “not a penny of taxpayers’ money has gone, or will go, to Seaborne.” Last month Mr Grayling insisted the contract was “not a risk”.

Related: 'Failing Grayling' banned from Calais by furious port officials

© Johnston Publishing Ltd

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Seaborne Freight was one of three firms awarded contracts totalling £108 million in late December to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain leaves the EU, despite having never run a Channel service.

Asked whether Mr Grayling had the PM’s confidence, Mrs May’s official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: “Yes.

“In relation to Seaborne, we were clear that it would need to meet specific milestones in order to fulfil its contractual obligations.

“When it became clear that it would not reach these requirements without the continued support of Arklow Shipping, the Transport Secretary decided to terminate the contract. It is obviously ultimately important that we protect taxpayers’ money.”

He added: “We are already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity, including through the port of Ramsgate, in the event of no deal.

“There is no threat to contracts with DFDS or Brittany Ferries, who will be providing around 90 per cent of additional capacity in the event of no deal.”

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