Pressure grows on Chris Grayling as Brexit ferry firm dumped

Saturday 9th February 2019 15:45 GMT

The transport secretary awarded Seaborne Freight a £13.8m contract to ensure ferries kept crossing the Channel in the event that the UK leaves the EU without an exit agreement.

But that contract has been ripped up after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne Freight, stepped away from the deal.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sky News that Mr Grayling's plan to have Seaborne provide services from Ramsgate to Ostend was "ridiculous".

He said: "This plan was never a runner. He's wasted time and officials' energy in pursuing something that was never ever capable of delivering and he's been told time and time... again. He should go."

Mr Grayling last month defended the decision to award Seaborne a contract, claiming it was "not a risk".

This came after it emerged the firm copied its terms and conditions of business from the website of a takeaway.

The government faced widespread criticism over the contract because the firm owned no vessels suitable for carrying goods or vehicles.

Labour's call for Mr Grayling to quit over Seaborne is just the latest demand for his resignation during his two-and-a-half years as transport secretary.

Since his appointment in July 2016, he has been criticised for:

  • Blocking a move by London mayor Sadiq Khan to take control of local train services, after telling Boris Johnson in a letter he would not put those services in "the clutches of a Labour mayor"
  • Telling rail unions he wants to change how fare rises are determined - but also how employees' wages are decided
  • The overhaul of rail timetables which resulted in network chaos
  • Failing to intervene in a long-lasting strike by workers on the Southern rail franchise that caused major disruption to thousands of commuters
  • Delaying legislation on drones before the devices resulted in flights being suspended at Gatwick Airport
  • Presiding over a "rail catastrophe" due to delays and rising costs in the Crossrail scheme in London
  • Seeing the chair of the HS2 high speed rail project quit after admitting "nobody knows" how much it will end up costing

Seaborne was one of three firms awarded contracts totalling £108m in late December to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain leaves the EU.

A DfT spokeswoman said: "Following the decision of Seaborne Freight's backer, Arklow Shipping, to step back from the deal, it became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the government. We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement.

"The government is already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity - including through the port of Ramsgate - in the event of a no-deal Brexit."

The DfT said no taxpayer money had been transferred to the company before the contract was terminated.

Mr McDonald added: "This contract was never going to work but this secretary of state, true to form, blunders from one disaster to another.

"Whilst Theresa May needs the few friends she has right now, we cannot have this incompetent transport secretary carry on heaping humiliation after humiliation on our country."

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: "The whole exercise is a complete and utter shambles with the government ignoring union calls on what needs to happen.

"It's time for Chris Grayling to stop attacking RMT and start listening to people who actually know what they are talking about instead of the chancers selling him a pile of old rope they don't even own."

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