Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has defended the government’s choice of a UK company with no ships as one of the providers of extra ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The transport secretary said he would “make no apologies for supporting a new British business” after widespread criticism of the award of the contract to the British firm Seaborne Freight, which has never previously operated a similar service.
Mr Grayling said he would make no apologies for “supporting a new British business”.
The firm, Seaborne Freight, won a £13.8m contract to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend.
But a BBC investigation discovered it had never run a ferry service before.
Mr Grayling told the Today programme that the government had “looked very carefully” at the business.
Grayling continues to defends giving the Brexit ferry contract to company with no ships.
Question is how carefully do you need to look to realise the company have no ships and never did?
The contract is one of three agreements worth a total of £107.7m signed by the government to help ease congestion at Dover by securing extra lorry capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Seaborne hopes to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate from late March, beginning with two ships and increasing to four by the end of the summer.
The local Conservative councillor Paul Messenger was the first to raise concern in public about awarding such a lucrative contract to a firm with no prior experience. “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?” he told the BBC.
He said the company had not moved “a single truck in their entire history … I don’t understand the logic of that”.
Grayling dismissed the criticism on Wednesday, saying: “I am not quite sure what an individual Conservative councillor would be able to tell us.”
He said the Department for Transport was confident the ferries would run by April. “We haven’t plucked this out of thin air,” he said.
Seaborne was established two years ago with the aim of running freight ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend in Belgium. The company said it had been financed initially by shareholders to source suitable vessels and make arrangements with ports as well as building the infrastructure and crewing the vessels.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA), which represents firms bringing freight to and from UK ports, said its members were worried about how their trucks will get across the Channel.
Seaborne Freight will need to “source ferries, hire and train staff and link with relevant authorities”, according to Rod McKenzie, a managing director at the RHA.
“It looks an impossible timescale.”