And you thought the United States government had problems.
With the likelihood of a No Deal Brexit increasing by the day (and less than two months until the deadline), the British government is busy working on contingency plans for how to keep business as usual flowing through what’s expected to be a rocky transition period. One concern is that the shipping of goods across the English Channel will be disrupted as customs agents sort out the new rules and approve transport companies. Fearing that the shipping docks at Dover might be overwhelmed with freight, the government is seeking other ferry operators who can be ready to haul cargo containers back and forth.
Moving quickly – without even waiting for a bidding process – the government approved a 14 million pound ($17.9M) contract to Seaborne Freight to handle the load. The decision drew immediate scrutiny for a few reasons. Chief among these was the fact that Seaborne Freight doesn’t own a single ferry and has never moved so much as one truckload of freight. (Daily Mail)
Preparations for a no-deal Brexit have come under fresh scrutiny after it emerged a £13.8million ferry contract was awarded to a firm with no ships.
Seaborne Freight was handed the cross-Channel contract last week despite the fact it has never operated a service.
The firm is aiming to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend, to reduce the pressure on Dover in case of a cliff-edge exit.
The contracts were not put out to tender, in what the Department for Transport called a ‘situation of extreme urgency’ brought about by ‘unforeseeable events’.
Not only does Seaborne not have any ferries, but the port they propose to use at Ramsgate is only suitable for narrower, more shallow draft vessels at present. A significant portion of the harbor would need to be dredged before you could begin stacking up sea-going ferries there for loading and unloading. One councilor from Ramsgate spoke up and said that he didn’t see any way the harbor could be ready for operations by the March 29 deadline.
Even if that herculean task could be managed and Seaborne could somehow obtain sufficient ferries in a matter of weeks, they would then have to find and hire all of the workers required to operate the craft and handle the longshoreman work. The owner of the company is a former sailor, which might at least inspire some confidence, but he served on submarines. Unless you want your container ships traveling along the bottom of the channel that may not prove helpful.
A spokesman for the Lib Dems (one of the opposition parties) was quoted as saying, ‘That the Government has reportedly signed a contract with a ferry company with no ferries pretty much sums up their farcical approach to the entire Brexit fiasco.’
While it’s none of my business what the Brits decide to do about Brexit, I’m still of the opinion that leaving the EU will be the best thing for them in the long run. But incidents such as this are simply unforced errors which weaken the Prime Minister’s hand (and that of the Tories as well) and make an already difficult process even harder. Theresa May and her party can still get the Brexit horse over the finish line, but they must do better than this.