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UK pulls Brexit ferry contract from firm with no ships

AFP  |  London 

Weeks of public sniggering and indignation culminated Saturday when the cancelled a ferry contract it had awarded to a firm with no ships.

The island nation's breakup with the took an odd turn in December when it handed the unheralded company the 13.8-million pounds (USD 17.9 million, 15.6-million-euro) deal.

It was meant to make sure that cross-Channel trade with its closest trading partners did not grind to a halt if Britain ended up leaving on March 29 without new arrangements in place.

Fears of the dreaded "no-deal Brexit" are rising as the clock nears the hour when the ends its 46 years involvement in the European project.

The agreement and sealed in December is currently stuck in the

Many lawmakers oppose it and Theresa May's efforts to get sweeteners from the EU that could help push it over the line are being rebuffed.

The contract was the smallest of three emergency ferry deals secretary quietly approved over the break.

But it quickly became the most famous -- or perhaps infamous -- when reporters discovered that was a startup that had never actually been involved in this line of work.

It had no ships and planned to operate from a port not suited for the types of large vessels needed to move stacks of loaded containers across the sea.

Grayling's ministry said Saturday that its decision to rip up the deal came after an Irish firm that emerged as a possible supplier of ships for Seaborne Freight changed its mind.

"Following the decision of Seaborne Freight's backer, Shipping, to step back from the deal, it became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the government," the ministry said.

"We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement." It also stressed that no taxpayer money had been spent.

Seaborne Freight has been a source of ridicule and amusement throughout the bleak British winter weeks.

erupted after someone noticed that parts of its "terms and conditions" appeared to have been copy-pasted from a

Grayling's ministry explained that the section had been put there in error. It was soon removed -- but the damage had been done.

"Seaborne Freight. No ships, no trading history and website T&Cs copied and pasted from a takeaway delivery site," opposition tweeted at the time.

Labour's political assault on Grayling continue on Saturday with calls for him to resign or be sacked.

"Whilst needs the few friends she has right now, we cannot have this incompetent secretary carry on heaping humiliation after humiliation on our country," Labour transport pointman said. "He has to go."

newspaper said the Irish shipping company stepped in two weeks ago but abruptly withdrew Friday.

There has been no official explanation for its change of heart.

But backing said gravely that "one has to hope the has not lent on or put any pressure on to persuade it to pull out".

"That would be a very unfriendly act of a neighbour to obstruct no deal preparations," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, February 09 2019. 18:25 IST