Where’s Failing Grayling? Labour demands hapless transport secretary face the music over £33 million Brexit ferry deal with Eurotunnel but the HEALTH SECRETARY is sent instead
- Matt Hancock will answer an Urgent Question from Labour, Downing Street said
- Came after payment to settle legal case over £108m no-deal ferry contracts
- Opposition suggested the Transport Secretary had been ‘sent into hiding’
Bungling Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is facing criticism after failing to appear before MPs to explain the no-deal Brexit ferry debacle that led to a widely criticised £33 million payment to Eurotunnel.
Labour had demanded Mr Grayling explain Friday’s payout to settle a legal case over contracts worth £108 million handed to three ferry companies to run emergency cross-Channel services in the event of a no-deal departure from the EU.
But Downing Street revealed on Monday morning that Health Secretary Matt Hancock would be the minister who would appear in the Commons this afternoon to face the music and answer the urgent question from furious MPs.
Mr Grayling will also avoids answering questions about changes to the probation service during his time as Justice Secretary, with current incumbent David Gauke taking the heat instead.
Labour had demanded Chris Grayling come to the Commons on Monday to answer for the payment to Eurotunnel unveiled last Friday
Eurotunnel had launched a legal challenge to the Government’s decision to hand contracts worth £108 million to ferry firms without offering it a chance to bid for them
Labour was less than impressed by the decision to allow Matt Hancock to answer the statement
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: ‘Chris Grayling told us that Brexit would allow Parliament to take back control, yet he is running scared of questions over his latest costly blunder.
‘The government are no longer prepared to defend the indefensible so the Secretary of State has been sent into hiding.
‘The Transport Secretary remaining in post is an insult to taxpayers and an international embarrassment.’
Ferry contracts were awarded by the Government in December to DFDS, Brittany Ferries and Seaborne Freight to lay on additional crossings to ports other than Dover.
The £14 million deal with Seaborne – which was a start-up company with no ships – was terminated last month after its financial backer Arklow Shipping pulled out, before any money changed hands.
The plan was designed to ease pressure on shipping capacity at nearby Dover if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal next month
Matt Hancock was drafted in to answer the Urgent Question, much to the fury of Labour, which has made repeated calls for Grayling to be sacked
Labour called for Mr Grayling to be sacked for overseeing ‘serial failure and routine incompetence’ in everything from Brexit planning to late-running train services affecting large parts of the country last year.
Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, also weighed in to criticise Mr Grayling on Monday.
He said: ‘As Shadow Transport Secretary I faced off against several incompetent Tory Ministers. But they at least had the guts to come to the House to answer Urgent Questions.
‘Chris Grayling and this Government are showing a complete and utter contempt of Parliament and the taxpayer.’
Even former Labour deputy prime minister John Prescott weighed in to the debacle, contrasting the difference in attitude from his time in the Commons
The Government on Friday said the deal with Eurotunnel was to ‘deliver improvements which will ensure the Channel Tunnel is ready to continue to keep passengers and freight moving post-Brexit’ such as better security and traffic flow at the border.
At the same time Eurotunnel dropped its legal case over the contracts, which it claimed should have been more openly tendered to companies like the Channel Tunnel operator.
Theresa May’s official spokesman said that the decision was because the response to the no-deal Brexit ferries decision involved more than on minister.
He said: ‘There is a statement due to be given today. My understanding is that it will be the Health Secretary.
‘Friday was a joint statement by a number of ministers, which is entirely proper given the issue that is being discussed.’
Grayling’s ferry failure: How the cross-channel no-deal Brexit plan descended into farce
Chris Grayling has been widely attacked over his December decision to award ferry contracts to cover the possibility of a no-deal Brexit causing problems at the UK’s borders:
- December 22: Department for Transport awards contracts worth £108 million to DFDS, Brittany Ferries and Seaborne Freight to lay on additional crossings to ports other than Dover in a no-deal Brexit.
- December 29; The news is revealed and the DfT says there was no time to put them out to tender.
- December 30: It is revealed that Seaborne Freight had been given a contract worth £13.8 million but owned no ships.
- January 2: Mr Grayling defended the decision as ‘supporting new businesses’. He insisted he had checked Seaborne Freight would be able to deliver goods between Kent and Belgium if needed in a no-deal scenario.
- January 3; It was alleged the firm’s website copied its terms and conditions from a takeaway shop, with a long run of small print that featured a section about ‘placing an order’ that placed an obligation on a customer to check their ‘meal’. It was later deleted.
- January 9: It was revealed Seaborne would not be ready to begin services until April, missing Brexit day on March 29.
- February 10: The contract with Seaborne is officially cancelled after it backers, Arklow Shipping, pulled out. The Government says no money changed hands.
- February 11: Eurotunnel launched a legal case against the DfT over the way the contracts were handed out to ferry firms.
- March 1: The Government agrees a £33 million deal with Eurotunnel and the firm drops the legal case.
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