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Leaving the EU: Port Delays

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019

My Department is working closely with the Border Delivery Group to help to ensure that trade will continue to flow with minimum friction at UK ports. We are also continuing to liaise closely with the devolved Administrations.

During the farce of the ferry company with no ferries, and indeed no harbours, the Secretary of State claimed that no taxpayers’ money would be spent on services that were not required. However, the National Audit Office has reported that cancelling the other no-deal ferry services that were contracted to start on 29 March will actually cost £56 million. Did the Secretary of State not understand the contracts that he was signing, or did he not even read them?

That was another question with some flaws in it. First, no taxpayers’ money was paid to Seaborne. In view of the article 50 extension, the Government are reviewing no-deal contingency planning, and have decided to terminate the contract with Brittany Ferries and DFDS. It is right for us to ensure that we have done everything that we can in the event of a no-deal scenario. We had to take out an insurance policy, which is why the other contracts were provided. The cost of terminating those contracts will be £43.8 million, but had we delayed the termination, it would have been an extra £10 million. I remind the House that this is just 1% of no-deal planning. If the hon. Lady is concerned about the cost and about no-deal planning, I suggest that she vote for the deal.

You will realise, Mr Speaker, that when we leave this dreadful European Union, there will be a massive expansion in trade as we increase exports all over the world. Has the Minister—this excellent Minister—planned an expansion of the ports so that we can deal with that increased trade?

Once again, my hon. Friend is waving the flag for the United Kingdom. We have indeed put together a 30-year maritime strategy called Maritime 2050, which will help to deliver the fantastic maritime nation that we were before we joined the EU. It is a great opportunity to promote again the hard work undertaken by our ports, including preparing for the possibility of—[Interruption.]

Order. I am listening to the flow of the Minister’s eloquence and the eloquence of her flow, but meanwhile the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is chuntering from a sedentary position to no obvious benefit or purpose; the only thing I can detect is some muttering about one flag rather than another flag. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak on his feet with force and Demosthenian eloquence in due course.

I was just going to end by talking about the fantastic work our ports do, including in preparing for no deal, and I look forward to working with them as we increase trade post Brexit.

The Transport Minister in the Lords said yesterday that she did not rule out our having a no-deal scenario in October and therefore we could potentially be exactly where we are now later in the year. Can the Minister assure me that the ferry companies will not get double-bubble if that unfortunate situation occurs?

We have to prepare for no deal; it is the default position of triggering article 50. If the right hon. Gentleman has any concerns about the impact of no deal, I would ask him to vote for the deal at the next opportunity.

So far we have had a contract with a company with no ships and illegal procurement practices, which resulted in Eurotunnel winning £33 million in compensation, and then the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and tells us the £50-odd million cancellation of the current services is the right thing to do as part of the Brexit preparations. Now we also learn that P&O is suing the Department. When did the Minister learn of its action? Will this go through the courts, or will there be another £33 million cave-in as apparently such sums do not matter as they only represent a small percentage of the overall figure?

I am not going to comment on any procedures taking place in respect of legal action, but if the hon. Gentleman really is concerned about no-deal planning, he cannot in one breath say we have not prepared enough and in the next say we have prepared and now we have to deal with the consequences. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about no deal, I suggest he think about voting for the deal. It was absolutely right that we respected the needs across Whitehall and procured freight capacity, including for urgent medical equipment and medicines that may or may not be needed; it was the right and responsible thing to do.

I suggest that the Minister should change the record: why should we vote for a deal that we think is a bad deal just to cover up this Government’s incompetence? We have had 89 lorries mimicking the effects of 10,000 lorries, a contract given to a company with no ships, a £33 million out-of-court settlement, another court case looming, and contracts with a 29 March no-deal date that could not be changed costing an estimated £56 million, yet the Government say they have stood down their no-deal preparations as they seem to think everything is okay. What real Brexit preparations work are this Government doing for a possible no-deal exit on 31 October?

That is such a lengthy question that I feel the hon. Gentleman has already cracked the urgent question to come after these departmental questions. To go over the whole debate about Brexit, we would need far more time than we have now. The public made a decision, and it was our job to undertake everything that would come out of that decision so we have to prepare for no deal. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is criticising us for preparing for no deal or for having no deal in the first place. It was the outcome once we had triggered article 50, and I must say that the work undertaken by the Department for Transport with our port sector was remarkable, with all the officers and directors who worked within the Department to ensure that everything was in place if no deal was to happen. The Department for Transport has a role to ensure that every other Department within Whitehall has what it requires for a no-deal scenario; that is why those contracts were procured and that is why we are in the situation we are in now.