- The UK government has awarded a multimillion pound no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a firm with no ferries.
- Local Conservative politicians have questioned whether the firm will be ready in time with the opposition Labour party saying the deal “reeks.”
- The Transport Secretary Chris Grayling defends the decision as an attempt to support a “startup” business.
- He said the government is “confident” a no-deal Brexit will not cause disruption at British ports.
LONDON – The UK government awarded a £14 million Brexit contract to a shipping company with no ships because they wanted to “support a new British business” the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has claimed.
The contract was awarded to the company Seaborne in order to provide additional freight services between the ports of Ramsgate in England and Ostend in Belgium, in the event of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
However, it subsequently emerged that Seaborne has no ferries, or experience of running them, and will not have any until shortly before Brexit day on March 29.
Local Conservative councillors have questioned whether the firm will be ready even by that point, with the opposition Labour party saying the arrangement “reeks”.
“Nothing could sum Brexit up better than the utter stench of this latest (transport department) mess,” Labour MP Neil Coyle said earlier this week.
However, Grayling dismissed the criticism, saying the government had merely been trying to support a new small British business.
“I make no apologies for supporting a new British business,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Wednesday.
“Government supporting a new startup business – there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Grayling, who campaigned for Brexit before the EU referendum, also insisted that Britain would be able to cope with a no-deal Brexit, saying he was “confident” that it would not cause problems at British ports.
“I am expecting the channel ports to operate normally in all Brexit circumstances” Grayling told the programme, adding that “I am confident that will happen.”
The row comes two weeks ahead of a planned vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the UK parliament.
The prime minister was forced to postpone the vote last month in order to prevent a huge parliamentary defeat.
Failure to pass the deal, agreed with EU leaders in November, would mean Britain has just months to avert a no-deal Brexit which the vast majority of economic forecasts suggest would be hugely damaging to the British economy.
Politicians on all sides are calling on May to change course, with pro-Brexit MPs calling on the prime minister to seek a renegotiation or prepare to leave without a deal, while pro-EU MPs want her to call a second EU referendum.
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