Government cancels Brexit contract it struck with ferry firm which has no ferries

Posted On: 
9th February 2019

Ministers have cancelled a controversial Brexit ferry service contract it struck with a new firm which has no ferries.

The Port of Ramsgate in Kent.
Credit: 
PA Images

The Department for Transport said it had made the decision after Seaborne Freight's backer, Arklow Shipping, withdrew its support.

Officials also insisted that no taxpayers' money was given to Seaborne before the contract was scrapped.

Chris Grayling defends awarding Brexit ferry contract to firm with no ferries

Brexit ferry firm with no ships ‘copied terms and conditions from takeaway website’

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had defended the award of the £13.8m contract for the company to provide additional crossings between Ramsgate in Kent and the Belgian port of Ostend to ease the pressure on Dover if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking in January, he said: "The reality is that this has been looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who have done due diligence on the company and have reached a view they can deliver.”

The minister added: "I make no apologies for supporting a new British business. I don't think there's anything wrong in the Government supporting small business."

But in a further embarrassment, it later emerged that the terms and conditions on Seaborne Freight's website appeared to have been copied from an online takeaway.

In a statement issued early on Saturday morning, spokesperson for the Department for Transport 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."

DfT sources insisted they stood by "the robust due diligence carried out on Seaborne Freight" before awarding the company the contract.

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran of the pro-EU Best for Britain group said: "Grayling seems to have realised what everyone else did weeks ago - there was no way a new company with no ships would be able to deliver a vital freight service with just a few months to prepare.

"With less than 50 days to put new arrangements in place there are serious questions to answer over how this multi million pound contract was awarded in the first place. This saga has been beyond satire and it’s a worrying indictment on this government's lack of preparation."