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Ferry companies bidding to secure no-deal Brexit contracts after Seaborne Freight fiasco

By Paul Francis

Ministers hope to avoid a repeat of the Seaborne Freight fiasco as they ask ferry firms again to bid for contracts in case of a no-deal Brexit.

Ferry operators will get another chance to secure contracts to provide extra services after October should the UK leave the EU without an agreement, which could cause major queues at the Port of Dover.

The Department for Transport says that under the new contingency arrangements, ferry companies will not be paid unless they are deployed to put on extra crossings.

The former Ramsgate ferry terminal. Picture: Chris Davey
The former Ramsgate ferry terminal. Picture: Chris Davey

The government was forced to pay out a staggering £85m after a series of botched contracts and court settlements that included offering the company Seaborne Freight a £13.5m contract to put on additional services from Ramsgate to Ostend despite it having no ferries.

The government has stressed that its approach will mean that there will be no cost to the public purse by way of upfront costs - paying operators before they may be needed.

Cabinet secretary David Liddington told MPs: “The Department of Transport is putting in place a freight capacity framework agreement that will provide government departments with the ability to secure freight capacity for our critical supply chains as and when required.

"This framework does not commit the Government to purchasing or reserving any freight capacity, but it does provide a flexible list of operators and options for the provision of the capacity that can be drawn upon if needed.”

The payouts made by the government included £34m to Eurotunnnel by way of an out of court settlement and legal fees.

It took court action complaining that it was overlooked during the bidding process.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling

Then, in another twist, P&O ferry company sued the British government over the payout to Eurotunnel.

Asked if he was concerned about the potential costs that could be incurred by the government in new contracts, leadership hopeful Boris Johnson said on a visit to Kent this week: “We will do what it takes but I am very, very confident that we will get a deal overwhelmingly in the interests of British businesses and citizens on both sides of the channel. After all, the EU member states are mostly sensible people who want the best for their citizens.”

But he refused to speculate on the question of whether he would keep the under-fire transport minister Chris Grayling in the cabinet if he became PM.

"I am not going to say anything about the future composition of any cabinet. People would rightly accuse me of being complacent."

“That comes under the category of ‘measuring up the curtains,’” he told reporters.

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