EU Exit Preparations: Ferry Contracts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:37 pm, 5th March 2019

I agree with the shadow Transport Secretary. It is indicative of the way in which the Transport Secretary has performed throughout his ministerial career, and, indeed, it is now indicative of the Government themselves.

The Government’s settlement with Eurotunnel confirms what everyone except, it seems, the Transport Secretary knew: that flouting EU law on the basis of so-called unforeseen events was a completely untenable position. The only development that was foreseeable was that he would make a hash of anything that he touched. He now even has his own website, tracking how much money he is costing the taxpayer. That becomes a great deal less humorous when we see the amount: £2.7 billion as of this morning, although—as we know from the Transport Secretary—that may have gone up while I have been speaking.

Before the Government’s settlement last week, Eurotunnel said:

“It appears …that the secretary of state is seeking to maintain extensive claims to confidentiality in relation to large numbers of disclosed documents and appears to intend that large parts, if not all, of the trial should be held in private.”

Moreover, we have again seen a failure to disclose answers to the questions asked in the Chamber.

Let me end by asking some more questions. The Transport Secretary says that there has been a changed assumption. No, there has not; there has been complacency and arrogance. There was an urgent question about this issue yesterday, following a weekend of silence from the Transport Secretary. Why did he duck it, and send the Health Secretary to answer it in his place? Has he any shred of respect for the principle of ministerial accountability?

The question remains of why Eurotunnel was overlooked in this first place. As I have said, the secrecy is of real concern. How much documentation is still hidden from public view? If the no-deal contract is not invoked, how much money will still be paid to Eurotunnel? With engineering firm Bechtel set to sue the Government over the HS2 tender process, what other departmental procedural risks still exist? Is it not the case that any other individual working on a business deal would have been sacked by now for wasting the amount of money the Secretary of State has wasted to date? What message does that send to the public? The message it sends is that failure, waste, ignorance, complacency, arrogance and contempt for the public are to be rewarded by the Tories.