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Sack UK Transport Secretary Over Brexit Ferry Fiasco, Demand MPs

10th February 2019
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UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting. Downing Street said the prime minister had full confidence in the transport secretary. As for Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading pro-Brexit Tory MP, suggested Arklow (Shipping) might have ended support (for Seaborne Freight) after political pressure in Ireland. UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting. Downing Street said the prime minister had full confidence in the transport secretary. As for Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading pro-Brexit Tory MP, suggested Arklow (Shipping) might have ended support (for Seaborne Freight) after political pressure in Ireland. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

#ferries - UK prime minister Theresa May faced cross-party calls to sack her transport secretary, Chris Grayling, last night, after the calamitous collapse of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract handed to a company with no ships.

As The Guardian reports, senior tories said the prime minister had turned “a blind eye” to Grayling’s decision to award the £13.8m contract to Seaborne Freight to run ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend, despite widespread derision and accusations that it had been awarded illegally.

The collapse of the contract comes amid growing unease in the international business community about Britain’s preparedness for a no-deal outcome, with less than 50 days until Brexit is due to take place.

Several MPs suggested Grayling should now consider his position after his department revealed the contract had been cancelled, and Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, said the saga would “just confirm the view of many that this country is in a mess”.

Anna Soubry, a former Tory business minister, said Grayling “should be quietly considering his position”.

“Chris Grayling holds a critical position in government, trying to mitigate what would be a very serious crisis for the country if we leave the European Union without a deal,” she said. “He has no grip on the very serious nature of his job. The prime minister should also be considering whether there is not someone else who could do the job better.”

Another senior Tory MP said Grayling was a “walking disaster zone”, adding: “A no-deal Brexit would be a major national crisis and stories like this suggest we have not got the people in place who are capable of responding to it.”

Another said: “Grayling never has a grip on the detail, as the Seaborne mess shows. His Heathrow proposal will be just the same but way more costly. The PM just turns a blind eye, for some reason.”

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “While Theresa May needs the few friends she has right now, we cannot have this incompetent transport secretary heaping humiliation after humiliation on our country. He has to go.”

Joining the attacks, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, said: “I very rarely call on ministers to go, but failing Grayling has made too many crass mistakes. He has already lost the confidence of the civil service as they now require a ministerial directive for the government to spend money on ferries.”

Downing Street last night said the prime minister had full confidence in Grayling.

The Department for Transport said the deal was terminated after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne, stepped away from the deal. “It became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements,” a spokeswoman said. “We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement.”

For more on this ferry development, click here.

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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