National Comment Comment

The Ferry Fiasco: another failing, Chris Grayling?

The staggering lack of morality and understanding in the Brexit talks is a scandal that must be challenged

Photo Credit: Department of Transport

Brexit is proving to be a very revealing process: demonstrating the sheer incompetence of the current government and Prime Minister, showing what happens when an opposition cloaks itself in ambiguity and highlighting how a single event on a certain day can be portrayed in any way with the right spin or acting. As a first-class procrastinator, my mum would say to me: “Callum, you could convince yourself of anything”. While I think I have grown out of that trait – or maybe I’m just trying to convince myself of that – our current key political figures have not.

“Nothing has changed”. From the first time those words of denial were uttered from Theresa May’s mouth they have come to categorise all that is wrong with our politics in the UK currently. The flat-out denial in the face of undeniable situations; the lack of morals in the face of party politics. The example that jumps out to me is Chris Grayling (Transport Secretary) and the fiasco with no deal Brexit planning, where party politics made people close ranks, when we should all have been joined in criticism of the absurd defence of an indefensible situation.

Chris Grayling – in my view entirely responsible – decided that to prepare for any possible no deal, extra ferry services should be put in place. The majority of the funding for new ferry services went to established, somewhat honourable and feasible operators who already run ferry services. But a £13.8 million contract was awarded to a new company called Seaborne Freight in a situation that should only be referred to as Ferry Gate. To say that after closer examination the feasibility of the scheme has run aground, would be an understatement.

Firstly, Seaborne Freight has no ferries, and with just over two months to go until a potential no deal Brexit could happen, there are no available ferries ready to rent or buy that could be fitted ready to be used in the Channel within that time frame. Secondly, the UK port, Ramsgate, from which they are meant to launch their ferry services – despite having none, just imagine – could not currently accommodate any ferries, as it needs extensive dredging and renovation, as the Councillor for the local area has stated. But the cherry on top of the cake is that Donald Tusk told May she can’t have her cake and eat it, is that the background of some of the individuals behind Seaborne Freight has been called into considerable question.

Brian Raincock, one of the directors of Seaborne Freight, owes HMRC over £580 000 from his last business which went into liquidation. He says he was not questioned about this during any conversations, throwing into question the scope of the background check on individuals involved. This concern is further heightened by the involvement of Ben Sharp. Channel 4 News revealed he is suspected of closing his freight protection company in the gulf owing over £1 million to multiple shipping companies. So, did Chris Grayling really do “detailed work” into the finances and background of this company and its new directors’ older pasts? Or was he just desperate to appear on top of no deal Brexit preparations and willing to go to any lengths, including lowering usual precautions and procedures regarding the awarding government contracts? When challenged about these allegations and the practicalities of awarding this company such a contract, Chris Grayling in his responses to an urgent question in the House of Commons gave the most dismissive of replies to the Commons that I have ever seen. Amazingly he faced no challenge from his own side of the House despite the clear ridiculousness of the situation.

If an opposition member asked a question or voiced concern they were branded anti-new business or told that if Seaborne Freight does not deliver, then it won’t be paid a penny. However, assuming they were awarded the contract because we as a country need extra ferry capacity then this justification for the awarding of a contract to such a clearly infeasible pitch with the assurance over money doesn’t cut it – we still won’t have the extra ferries we need on time. When Boris Johnson said we would make a Titanic success out of Brexit he was right. This episode has definitely left me and others with a sinking feeling, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So FerryGate is, for me, the epitome which sums up my current frustration with politics. Strong beliefs should not get in the way of right and wrong; self-embarrassment and not wanting to admit that you were wrong or made a mistake are the worst reasons thinkable for sticking to a point. In politics there are times when it is more important than usual to try and work through differences, to try and put party politics aside in order to acknowledge and pursue what is right. While “right” is subjective, I find it difficult to believe that Conservatives dbelieved they were doing the right thing defending Chris Grayling. He messed up, and now he should face the consequences of his actions.

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