Fiasco over cancelled contract
May urged to sack Grayling after Seaborne ferry u-turn
Chris Grayling: he said the government had ‘put in place a tight contract’
Theresa May was coming under pressure today to sack Transport Secretary Chris Grayling after an embarrassing u-turn on awarding a ferry contract to a company with no ships to help cope with a potential No Deal Brexit.
The £13.8 million contract with Seaborne Freight was cancelled by the Department of Transport after the company’s Irish backer pulled out. The government is now in “advanced talks” to find another ferry firm.
Andy McDonald, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “As we predicted, the Seaborne Freight contract has been cancelled. This cannot go without consequence. The Chris Grayling catalogue of calamities grows bigger by the day. 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. He has to go.”
Seaborne Freight was awarded the contract in December to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend in the event that Britain leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March.
But the government was heavily criticised for choosing the company when it emerged it had no ships or trading history, and for leaving too little time to establish the new ferry service before the Brexit deadline.
At the time, Mr Grayling said: “It’s a new start-up business, government is supporting new British business and there is nothing wrong with that.
“We have looked very carefully at this business, we have put in place a tight contract that makes sure they can deliver for us. I don’t see any problem with supporting a new British business.”
He said the firm would be ready to deliver services from April and had been “looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who have done due diligence on the company and reached a view they can deliver”.
But today the Department of Transport said that it has now become clear that Seaborne “would not reach its contractual requirements”, after Arklow Shipping backed out of the deal.