Brexit: UK Government thought it was worth ‘risk’ over ferry contracts

Chris Grayling has insisted the government thought it was worth taking a “risk” over Brexit ferry contracts after brushing aside calls to resign as Transport Secretary.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling. Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Transport secretary Chris Grayling. Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

He faced shouts of “ahoy there” and “peekaboo” from opposition MPs as he arrived in the Commons, a day after failing to appear to answer an urgent question on the controversial £33 million payout to Eurotunnel.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry added that “in any normal, healthy functioning democracy this scandal would bring the government down”.

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The payment was to settle a legal action brought by Eurotunnel after the government awarded contracts to three ferry companies – one of which had no ships – to transport essential medical supplies from the EU if Britain leaves without a deal in place.

Mr Grayling said decisions on the matter were taken “collectively” by ministers, although he said they were “deeply sorry” it had not worked out as intended.

Labour accused Mr Grayling of admitting he had “acted in contravention” of legal advice and described him as a “departmental wrecking ball” as they renewed calls on him to resign.

Arriving for a meeting of Cabinet earlier, Mr Grayling said he would not bow to opposition demands for him to go.

Labour MP David Hanson, speaking in the Commons after the SNP secured an emergency debate, asked if officials had advised that negotiations solely with ferry companies would result in a legal challenge by Eurotunnel.

Mr Grayling replied: “It was my judgment and the judgment of my accounting officer and the judgment of those who vetted the plan across government that this was a risk we should take given the need to ensure that we had a supply of drugs into the country.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “What he is laying bare today is that advice he received, he’s acted in contravention of that advice and he has lost. What we’re asking for is not an absence of preparation for contingencies, what we’re asking for is a modicum of competence and he’s singularly failed.”