Mon, Feb 11, 2019 - Page 1 News List

UK secretary in hot water over no-deal Brexit contract

The Guardian

British Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling arrives for a Cabinet meeting in London on Jan. 22.

Photo: EPA-EFE

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced cross-party calls to sack British Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling on Saturday night, after the calamitous collapse of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract handed to a company with no ships.

Senior Tories said the prime minister had turned “a blind eye” to Grayling’s decision to award the £13.8 million contract to Seaborne Freight to run ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend, despite widespread derision and accusations that it had been awarded illegally.

The collapse of the contract comes amid growing unease in the international business community about Britain’s preparedness for a no-deal outcome, with less than 50 days until Brexit is due to take place.

Several legislators said that Grayling should consider his position after his department revealed the contract had been canceled, and former British civil service head Bob Kerslake said the saga would “just confirm the view of many that this country is in a mess.”

Anna Soubry, a former Tory business minister, said Grayling “should be quietly considering his position.”

“Chris Grayling holds a critical position in government, trying to mitigate what would be a very serious crisis for the country if we leave the European Union without a deal,” she said. “He has no grip on the very serious nature of his job. The prime minister should also be considering whether there is not someone else who could do the job better.”

Another senior Tory MP said that Grayling was a “walking disaster zone,” adding: “A no-deal Brexit would be a major national crisis and stories like this suggest we have not got the people in place who are capable of responding to it.”

“While Theresa May needs the few friends she has right now, we cannot have this incompetent transport secretary heaping humiliation after humiliation on our country. He has to go,” Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Andy McDonald said.

Downing Street last night said the prime minister had full confidence in Grayling.

The British Department for Transport said the deal was terminated after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne, stepped away from the deal.

“It became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements,” a department spokeswoman said. “We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement.”

Having awarded the contract to a firm without ships, the deal with Seaborne descended further into farce when it emerged the company had copied terms and conditions from what appeared to be a pizza delivery company onto its Web site.

Several weeks later, the transport select committee published correspondence with Grayling in which he brushed off allegations that the government could have acted illegally by failing to put the deal out to tender.

Grayling was defended by fellow Brexiters last night.

“The department was right to award this and right to take action now. The important thing is that both Calais and the department are working extremely hard to keep trade moving,” Former British secretary of state for exiting the EU David Davis said.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, another pro-Brexit Tory legislator, suggested Arklow might have ended support after political pressure in Ireland.

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