The government has cancelled its £13.8 million deal with Seaborne Freight, the company it had contracted to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Department of Transport cited the loss of backer Arklow Shipping.
However, a source at Arklow Shipping told The Guardian that they never in fact made any deal.
“Seaborne approached us a year ago and we had no further contact until the end of December,” the source said. “There was nothing signed, we were just prospective investors that they had approached like many others I imagine. We had no agreements with Seaborne or with the Department of Transport.”
The cancellation came a day after transport secretary Chris Grayling had asked the local council of Thanet district to keep open parts of Ramsgate intended to be used for freight shipping. They had been faced with closure as negotiations dragged on.
Since the contract came to light, Grayling has been under fire for just about every aspect of the deal. Aside from the fact that Seaborne Freight was a start-up company with no ships that had never before operated a cross-channel ferry service, with a website featuring terms and conditions intended for a food delivery company, the Department of Transport was also criticised for invoking an emergency exemption to avoid putting the contract out to tender, on the basis of an imminent no-deal Brexit.
The Transport Select Committee, chaired by Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, began investigating allegations that the criteria for an emergency exemption were not met, which would be in breach of UK and EU law.
One point of contention was that, according to the law, “circumstances invoked to justify extreme urgency must not in any event be attributable to the contracting authority”—in this case, the government, which would be responsible for a no-deal Brexit if such a thing took place.
According to Greenwood, Grayling’s response to the Committee’s questions regarding the deal “[failed] to provide any additional insight into why they used emergency powers in the award of contracts, and to respond to the substance of our questions about the process of securing them.”
Grayling was also branded “disrespectful” by Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of the Port of Calais, for diverting traffic away from Calais despite preparations they had previously agreed on.
“It is not fair at all, it is completely disrespectful. I don’t want to see him again,” said Puissesseau.