There are concerns that Ramsgate port will not be ready in time for 29 March © PA Wire/PA Images
There are concerns that Ramsgate port will not be ready in time for 29 March © PA Wire/PA Images

MEP calls for inquiry into Brexit ferry contracts

7 January 2019

The European Commission (EC) has been urged to investigate the UK government over no-deal Brexit ferry contracts.

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith (SNP) has written to the EC requesting an investigation into the procurement process that led the UK government to directly award three ferry contracts totalling £107m, including a £13.8m contract to new business Seaborne Freight.

In his letter Smith writes: “I am concerned that proper procurement process has not been followed and that as well as potentially representing an extremely poor deal for the UK taxpayer and their impact on competition and the single market, the contracts could be used as templates for future, bigger, contracts likely to be awarded by the UK government. I would be grateful if your services could investigate.”

Seaborne Freight has been awarded a contract to run additional ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend, Belgium, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The contract has been criticised after it emerged the firm currently owns no boats and terms and conditions on the company’s website were found to resemble those of a food delivery service.

The government has insisted that the company was fully vetted ahead of being awarded the contract, with transport secretary Chris Grayling defending the decision, stating that the government sees no problem with supporting new businesses.

Contracts have also been directly awarded to Danish shipping firm DFDS A/S, worth £42.3m, and French company Bretagne Angleterre Irlande, worth £46.6m. The Department for Transport (DfT) justified directly awarding the contracts due to a status of “extreme urgency”.

Concerns have also been raised over the readiness of Ramsgate port should ferry services resume there after 29 March. Speaking to the BBC, councillor Beverly Martin said there’s no way the port will be ready for regular ferry services by 29 March.

The port has not had a regular ferry service since 2013 and due to the state of the port and number of repairs necessary, Martin believes there is terrific concern that the port will not be ready, despite the DfT stating works are underway.

"If someone can show me how the due diligence was carried out, if someone can show me evidence on paper, I shall feel a lot more comfortable," she said.

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