Brexit ferry firm unlikely to be ready in time

Seaborne Freight said to be unable to provide an alternative shipping route for transporting goods in event of no deal Brexit

Parked lorries sit near a sign directing freight traffic arriving from Europe towards Passport Control at the Port of Ramsgate in Ramsgate, south east England on January 8, 2019. In the Port of Ramsgate, dredging is under way to prepare the harbour for use in case of delays at the Port of Dover after March 29, the date the UK is set to leave the European Union.
 / AFP / Tolga Akmen / Tolga Akmen

A ferry company awarded a £14 million contract for shipping services in a no deal Brexit scenario is unlikely to be ready by the time Britain leaves the EU in March.

According to the Financial Times, senior government officials believe Seaborne Freight is unable to provide an alternative shipping route for transporting goods in the event of the Dover port of entry congested by delays brought on by a no deal Brexit.

Local authorities said they are still in “discussions” with Seabourne Freight over its potential to establish a freight route, despite local mayor of Ostend Bart Tommelein telling the Financial Times that it would be "impossible" for new freight routes to be established by 29 March.

Thanet District Council said it is working on re-establishing ferry services at the Port of Ramsgate and is "currently in discussions with a potential operator, Seaborne Freight, to establish a freight operation from Ramsgate to Ostend."

Seaborne Freight declined to comment when contacted by the National.

One MP claimed that the contract offered to the company, which is yet to have any registered ships, could be “unlawful”.

"The Transport Secretary has awarded a £14 million contract to a company with no money, no ships, no track record, no employees, no ports, one telephone line and no working website or sailing schedule," said Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald.

"This is a shoddy and tawdry affair and the secretary of state is making a complete mess of it. This contract is very likely unlawful and violates every current best practice guidance issued by Whitehall.”

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Mr McDonald called on transport minister Chris Grayling to resign and accused the government of “gross incompetence”.

In a statement to parliament on Tuesday, Mr Grayling said:

“I make no apology for being willing to contract with a new British company, we contracted with Seaborne Freight as the service they propose represents a sensible contingency in the event of disruption on other routes."

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