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Grayling reaches £33m settlement over Brexit ferry fiasco court case | Politics | The Guardian

The government has settled a high court case over the Brexit ferry fiasco after reaching an agreement worth up to £33m with Eurotunnel, which was suing it following the award of a contract to a company with no ships.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said in a statement: “The agreement with Eurotunnel secures the government’s additional freight capacity, helping ensure that the NHS has essential medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Eurotunnel was suing after Grayling awarded a contract for a ferry service to Seaborne Freight from the disused port of Ramsgate. Two other companies, DFDS and Brittany Ferries, were awarded contracts worth £108m.

The intention was to use the route between Ramsgate and Ostend in Belgium for emergency medical supplies in the event of no deal.

“While it is disappointing that Eurotunnel chose to take legal action on contracts in place to ensure the smooth supply of vital medicines, I am pleased that this agreement will ensure the Channel tunnel is ready for a post-Brexit world,” said Grayling.

In a statement, the government said: “As part of the agreement, Eurotunnel has also withdrawn its legal claim against the government, protecting the vital freight capacity that the government has purchased from DFDS and Brittany Ferries.”

The out-of-court settlement has been combined with a new £33m deal with Eurotunnel to provide freight capacity for transit of medical supplies in the absence of a Brexit deal.

The government said the primary reason it decided to come to an out-of-court agreement with Eurotunnel “was to ensure these vital goods would not be put in jeopardy in a no-deal scenario”.

The transport secretary was being sued by Eurotunnel over the allegedly unlawful award of a government contract to the companies, in a case due to start on Friday.

It argued that the government had breached public procurement rules by not putting the contracts out to tender.

Seaborne’s contract was worth £14m but was cancelled last month after it emerged that its supposed backer, Arklow Shipping, had no written deal with either the ferry company or the port.

On Monday, Grayling had been accused of trying to conduct large parts of a trial over the £14m Brexit ferry fiasco in private, against the principle of open justice, the high court has heard.

The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, said: “Our focus is firmly on delivering a deal but it is important we prepare for all scenarios. We are taking steps to ensure supply chains continue to function, whatever the circumstances of our departure, and that mitigation is in place to avoid disruption at borders.”

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “As set out to parliament this week, securing additional transport routes is a key component of our no-deal preparations so I’m pleased this case has been settled amicably and we can count on these extra supply routes as an important part of that contingency.

“While we never give guarantees, I’m confident that, if everyone – including suppliers, freight companies, international partners, and the health and care system – does what they need to do, the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted if we leave without a deal.”

The settlement is the latest sorry chapter in the ferry fiasco and the high court trial, which was due to start on Friday, would have potentially heaped more embarrassment on Grayling.

Four days after the contract was awarded, questions were being asked about the readiness of Seaborne Freight to handle the £13.8m contract after it turned out that terms and conditions on its website appeared to be intended for a food delivery firm.

Eurotunnel said in a statement the settlement would “ensure that the Channel tunnel remains the preferred route for vital goods to travel between the EU and the UK”.

It added that under its deal with the government, “the development of infrastructure, security and border measures … will guarantee the flow of vehicles carrying urgent and vital goods and … will keep supply chains essential to both industry and consumers moving”.

This content was originally published here.