Government hands no deal Brexit ferry contract to company that owns no ferries
*Insert 'this is fine' meme here*
The government has been attacked over its no deal Brexit preparation after it handed a multi-million pound contract to a ferry company that has never run a ferry service
Seaborne Freight has been awarded a £13.8 million contract to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend, but it does not yet own any ferries.
The company was formed less than two years ago to revive the Ramsgate-Ostend line and plans to be in action before 29 March, when Britain is due to officially leave the EU. The cross-channel service from Ramsgate has not been active since 2013 when TransEuropa collapsed.
The BBC has reported that a local councillor said it would be impossible to launch before quitting the European Union because it had "never moved a single truck in their entire history".
Councillor Paul Messenger, of Kent County Council, questioned whether the government had carried out sufficient checks on the firm, adding: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?
“Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14 million? I don’t understand the logic of that.”
However, the Department for Transport said it had awarded the contract in “the full knowledge that Seaborne is a new shipping provider” and that it “carefully vetted the company’s commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award”.
The DfT also signed contracts with French firm Brittany Ferries and Danish company DFDS to ease pressure on Dover as part of a £100 million deal.
Seaborne Freight have explained in a statement that they have been “financed by the shareholders” during their initial development phase involving “locating suitable vessels, making arrangements with the ports of Ostend and Ramsgate, building the infrastructure – such as bunkering – as well as crewing the ferries once they start operating”.
A spokesperson added: “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.
“This coincides with the Department for Transport’s Freight Capacity Purchase Agreement with Seaborne which is part of their preparations to increase ferry capacity in the unlikely event of a no-deal Brexit.”
Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a second EU referendum, said: “Never has it been clearer that our government is selling us down the river over Brexit.
“A firm that has never run a ferry service before has been awarded a multi-million pound contract and they don’t even have any ships.
“We know our ports aren’t ready for a no-deal disaster, but is hiring a firm that’s never dealt with this kind of thing before really going to help? This idea should have been sunk before it saw the light of day.”
While the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Ed Davey described the situation as "farcical".
"That the government has reportedly signed a contract with a ferry company with no ferries pretty much sums up their farcical approach to the entire Brexit fiasco," he said.
"The government could, and should, take the threat of a no-deal Brexit off the table. It is being used only to try and scaremonger people into backing their deal. It is now costing the country millions - it is inexcusable and people won't be fooled.
"People must be given the final say on the Brexit deal with a people's vote where they have the right to choose to remain."