PMQs: Taxpayers’ £800,000 wasted in botched ferry contract, says Corbyn

Published by Dylan Rana on

In today’s PMQs, the Prime Minister attempted to dodge criticism over botched ferry contract, but failing to vilify her opponent Jeremy Corbyn, she appeared brash and weak.

The session opened highlighting the historic first prosecution for Female Genital Mutilation. Conservative MP Helen Wheatly urged the Prime Minister to dedicate more Government time to progress Tory Zac Goldsmith’s proposed bill aimed to protect young girls from FGM, after it was infamously blocked by Conversative MP Christopher Chope who shouted “object” at a second reading of the bill in the House last Friday.

The Prime Minister, in response, pledged more Government time to the bill to end the “abhorrent” crime that “scars girls for the rest of their lives”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn led tributes to 21-year-old officer cadet who was found dead in an apparent suicide in Sandhurst, calling for greater mental health support for all members of the armed forces. The PM thus praised Plymouth MP and ex-Army Officer, Johnny Mercer, for his work on mental health in the armed forces.

Corbyn: Brexit handlings “costly, shambolic, and deliberately evasive”

“The Government’s handling of Brexit has been costly, shambolic, and deliberately evasive.” said Corbyn.

He referred to the Government’s handling of the £13.8 million contract with Seaborne Freight: “a company with no ships”, raising Chris Grayling told the House “we’re confident the firm will deliver the service”. He asked: “what went wrong?”

In response, the Prime Minister referenced two other contracts granted to other firms: DFDS and Brittany Ferries, whom May claims makes 90% of the contracts, and that these contracts remain in place. She claimed “due diligence” was carried out in the handling of Seaborne Freight’s contract.

Corbyn referenced another previous statement to the House of Commons by Chris Grayling, stating the transport secretary claimed the cancelling of the Seaborne contract “had no cost to the taxpayer”, though according to the National Audit office, “£800,000 was spent on external consultants to assess the bid” says the Leader of the Opposition, then asking whether the Prime Minister would amend the statement on record by her colleague Grayling.

Jeremy Corbyn criticised the Government’s handling of £13.8m ferry contract, which was infamously cancelled last week.

In her immediate response to the Labour leader’s questions, May mocked the timing of his question claiming “he is late to the party”, and that the SNP Westminster leader had already asked the question on Tuesday, throwing a jibe as “Labour following the SNP”, causing uproar from the Opposition benches. She then repeated “proper due diligence” was carried out, stating these costs would have been payable “regardless of who the contracts were entered in with”.

Following criticism by Corbyn that the transport department continued with the contract despite the external assessors categorising Seaborne as “high risk” due to its start-up status with no ships, the Prime Minister accused Corbyn of suggesting that the government does not offer contracts at all to start-up businesses. Despite this, May re-iterated that the “majority of these contracts went to established businesses”.

“What we’re doing in these contracts is ensuring that we are able to deal with the situation if we enter no-deal”, said the Prime Minister, then stating the leader of the opposition had before said “he doesn’t want any money spent on a no-deal situation”.

“If [Corbyn] doesn’t want to have no-deal, he’s going to have to vote for the deal.”

Analysis: May’s “due diligence” backfires

The Prime Minister today attempted to appear jovial to brush off concerns of chaos within her Government in preparation of exiting the EU. Today’s questions by the Leader of the Opposition focused almost entirely on Seaborne Freight’s botched contract, and it’s clear the Labour leader is using this blunder by the Department for Transport as a cornerstone for the Conservative government’s handling Brexit: “costly, shambolic, and deliberately evasive”.

May offered little resistance to the shocking figures of the wasted money, to the taxpayer of £800,000, and Thanet council of £1.2m presented by Corbyn, and instead chose to repeat “due diligence” had been carried out, even as to claim “there’s no good saying [due diligence] wasn’t carried out, because it was”.

Due diligence refers the exercise of care that a reasonable business or person is expected to take before entering into an agreement or contract with another party, and Corbyn used Grayling’s clear mistruths in parliament and the ignored advise from external assessors to point out, in-fact due diligence wasn’t carried out.

In response May’s attack of Corbyn as not being open to supporting start-up businesses was an attempt to vilify the Labour leader, but as the public is clear of the absurdity of granting a £13m contract to a firm with no ships, this defence just seemed brash and weak.

Instead of addressing the faults of granting the contract, May hinged on the reason for securing ferry capacity, even as to state it’s to ensure “medicines can reach the country” in a no-deal Brexit. There’s certainly not a lack of support ensuring medicine reach the British mainland, May completely avoids the criticism hurled at her Government, and completely dodges the question.

She accused Corbyn of “[not] being interested in ensuring medicines that we can, in a no-deal Brexit, provide”, “that’s what we’re doing, that’s the sensible approach of a Government that is taking this matter seriously”.

Corbyn didn’t criticise the Government’s reasoning for the ferry contracts, he criticised the handling of the contract, the granting to an inexperienced start-up, and by passing the blame onto the Leader of the Opposition by accusing him trying to stonewall medicines, May appears weak and untruthful with unfounded criticism that leaves the perception of a government in dismay.  

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