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Eurotunnel taking Department for Transport to court over Seaborne Freight ferry contract

Eurotunnel is starting a legal challenge against the Department for Transport over a decision to award contracts to three ferry companies, including one with no ships, under no-deal Brexit plans.

The court appeal is the latest twist in the controversy surrounding the contracts.

At the weekend, the government announced it was scrapping a £13.8 million contract with Seaborne Freight to provide a service between Ramsgate and Ofstend to ease pressure on other ports, such as Dover, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Ramsgate port (7101132)
Ramsgate port (7101132)

Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel, says the contracts totalling £108m were awarded through a "secretive and flawed procurement process".

The Department for Transport (DfT) has argued the "extreme urgency" of preparations for Britain's departure from the EU on March 29 justified the process.

At a hearing in London today, Eurotunnel's barrister Daniel Beard QC said the procurement process for "additional capacity for transport of goods across the English Channel" had been "undertaken without any public notice being issued".

Mr Beard said Eurotunnel only found out "when contract notices were published three days after Christmas", adding that it was "quite remarkable" his client had not been informed given its recent history in running cross-Channel services.

Eurotunnel had already voiced its concern about the contracts.

Last month, Jacques Gounon, chief executive of Getlink - the Paris-based parent company of Eurotunnel - wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling saying London had breached EU “competition and state-aid law”.

It was also reported the DfT had awarded an £800,000 contract to a law firm for advice in case Eurotunnel takes legal action over the impact of Brexit.

Today's developments come after it emerged councillors had been close to signing a deal with Seaborne Freight a year ago.

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