Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald called the Seaborne Freights contract a 'shoddy and tawdry affair' © PA Images
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald called the Seaborne Freights contract a 'shoddy and tawdry affair' © PA Images

Brexit ferry contract 'very likely unlawful'

9 January 2019

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has accused transport secretary Chris Grayling of making a “complete mess” of the Brexit ferry contract and called for his resignation.

McDonald has slammed the contract awarded to Seaborne Freight as "very likely unlawful" and a “shoddy and tawdry affair” in the House of Commons.

Calling on Grayling to resign, he told MPs: “The transport secretary has awarded a £14m contract to a company with no money, no ships, no track record, no employees, no port, one telephone line and no working website or sailing schedule.”

McDonald also said that one of Seaborne’s directors, Ben Sharp, is currently under investigation by another government department.

Seaborne was awarded the contract to run additional ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend, Belgium in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Two contracts were also awarded to established firms, Brittany Ferries and Danish firm DFDS.

Grayling defended the contract, insisting that the Department for Transport had completed a proper procurement process prior to awarding the contracts and confirming that no money would be paid to any of the three contracted firms until ferries are operating on the contracted routes.

While the Seaborne contract was questioned in the Commons, speaking to the BBC, mayor of Ostend Bart Tommelein has said it is “impossible” for the port to be ready for a new ferry line by 29 March.

He said: “We are interested in a ferry line because we have a harbour and a harbour needs traffic. But there are some inconveniences, also some investments to do in our harbour [and] in the harbour of Ramsgate.”

CIPS economist John Glen said while additional capacity could alleviate some transport difficulties in a no-deal scenario, the key issue was keeping lorries moving around the port because an ineffective document-checking process could result in huge delays and additional costs.

He said: “We have to ask ourselves whether the ferry services agreements solve the problem the government is grappling with, regardless of the legality of this move and the timing for any potential challenge. Even assuming the ferry companies appointed own vessels or can charter them when needed and the ports have dredges to allow big containers to access the port, what of the ongoing journeys with lorry transportation?”

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