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Government ministers never met Seaborne Freight's financial backers

By Matt Leclere

Government ministers never met with the ferry firm bidding to run a service from Ramsgate after Brexit.

Critics say the development uncovered by a Freedom of Information request represents an "astonishing footnote" to the saga.

The Department for Transport (DfT) did not hold face-to-face meetings with Arklow Shipping, the Irish company providing financial backing for Seaborne Freight.

TransEuropa ferries collapsed in 2013
TransEuropa ferries collapsed in 2013

No civil servants or politicians from the department met with Seaborne managers either during the discussions for a £13.8 million contract.

But the government insists it held many phone conversations and exchanged many emails during the failed negotiations, according to the BBC.

Speaking to KentOnline, the chairman of the Ramsgate Action Group, Steve Coombes said: "This is yet another astonishing footnote to the Seaborne Freight fiasco."

The group is campaigning for a regeneration plan for the harbour after Thanet District Council pulled £730,000 of funding to keep the port ready for ferries in its budget earlier this month.

But Mr Coombes says the group is continuing to seek answers on the way the contract was handled by the DfT and Thanet council.

He added: "These so-called answers look partial and evasive and provide no comfort whatsoever for the taxpayers of Thanet who lost so much money on this year long pantomime and disaster."

Mr Coombes suggestions were echoed by the shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald, who says it is hard to believe how the contracts "could have been handled any worse".

In response, the government says it followed normal practice describing the calls that ministers should have met with interested parties as "ridiculous" and shows a "fundamental misunderstanding of procurement rules".

Transport secretary Chris Grayling was heavily criticised for his role in the Brexit ferry deals - which would have included a freight service from Ramsgate in a no deal scenario for Britain leaving the EU.

The Port of Ramsgate
The Port of Ramsgate

But the deal was cancelled after less than two months following a string of embarrassments as Seaborne was revealed to own no ships and a blunder when the firm copy and pasted a takeaway business' terms and conditions on to its website.

Seaborne's contract with the government was terminated due to a lack of confidence in the firm being able to run the service between Kent and Belgium.

The Prime Minister was urged to sack Mr Grayling while the cabinet minister also faced calls for him to resign.

He is also subject to two investigations into the decision to give Eurotunnel £33 million to settle a lawsuit over a botched ferry contract.

MPs on the all-party public accounts committee are set to quiz the Department for Transport's most senior civil servant over the decision, which has led to calls for the minister to resign.

How is Brexit going to affect Kent? For all the latest news, views and analysis visit our dedicated page here.

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