The contracts were awarded without public notice, says Eurotunnel © AFP/Getty Images
The contracts were awarded without public notice, says Eurotunnel © AFP/Getty Images

Government sued over Brexit ferry contracts

12 February 2019

The government is being sued by Eurotunnel over the contracts awarded to charter additional ferries to cross the channel in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

At a High Court hearing in London on Monday, Eurotunnel claimed that the contracts were the product of a “secretive and flawed procurement exercise”.

The contracts, which were awarded to Brittany Ferries, DFDS and Seaborne Ferries, were announced on 29 December and Eurotunnel claimed that they were awarded with no public notice.

According to the BBC, Eurotunnel’s barrister Daniel Beard QC said the firm only found out "when contract notices were published three days after Christmas".

Beard continued that it was "remarkable" that Eurotunnel had not been informed of the contracts, given its recent history in running cross-Channel services.

Ewan West, representing transport secretary Chris Grayling in court, said that Eurotunnel "could never have provided that capacity" and "could not have complied" with the terms of the contracts.

Judge Peter Fraser ruled that a four-day trial will take place on 1 March due to the urgency of the case and the "very important public interest matters" involved.

In a letter to Grayling published by the Financial Times in January, Jacques Gounon, chief executive of Getlink - the parent company of Eurotunnel - warned of potential legal action.

He expressed “serious concern” over the contracts, which the firm called “distortionary and anti-competitive” and  a “unilateral breach not only of the Concession Agreement with Eurotunnel but more widely of existing competition and state aid law”.

The letter also asked for confirmation that Eurotunnel would be given the opportunity to negotiate the same kind of contracts to provide additional services, hinting that the firm would take legal action to challenge the ferry contracts.

A DfT spokesperson said that the government had undertaken a “competitive procurement process” which was “in line with proper procedures” to secure the additional ferry capacity between the UK and EU.

They continued: “The government has taken action to ensure disruption at our ports is minimised in a no deal scenario. This is just one element of our sensible contingency planning, protecting the interests of the public by keeping goods and traffic moving.”

The hearing took place as the DfT scrapped its controversial £13.8m contract with ferry firm Seaborne Freight, after its Irish backer, Arklow Shipping pulled out of the deal.

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