Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is cancelling a set of contracts to provide ferry services after a no-deal Brexit, at a cost estimated at around £50 million.
Grayling awarded contracts worth a total of more than £100 million last December to three firms - Brittany Ferries, DFDS and Seaborne Freight - to run extra services from ports including Plymouth, Poole and Portsmouth to ease expected pressure on the Dover-Calais route.
After the expected March 29 date of EU withdrawal was delayed, first to April 12 and now October 31, sailings went ahead even though the feared disruption to essential supplies like food and medicines did not materialise.
The National Audit Office estimated in February that the maximum cost of compensation to ferry operators if contracts were terminated would be £56.6 million, but a Whitehall source said the actual figure was expected to be around 10% lower.
Seaborne’s contract to provide sailings from Ramsgate was scrapped in February after an Irish company backing the deal pulled out.
The DFT paid £33 million to Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel in an out-of-court settlement of a claim that the company was unfairly overlooked for the work.
Now Grayling’s department is being sued by P&O Ferries over its complaint that the payment to Eurotunnel put it at a competitive disadvantage.
The announcement that the remaining contracts are now to be torn up is likely to fuel speculation that the government no longer believes a no-deal Brexit might happen.
Britanny Ferries has been operating 20 additional cross-Channel sailings a week since March 29 under the contract, despite Brexit not going ahead as expected on that date.
Some 30,000 passengers had their travel disrupted by new schedules introduced in March to accommodate the DFT contract, which are due to remain in place for six months.
The company has taken on 50 extra port staff in the UK and France and has spent large sums on fuel for the 2,000 additional nautical miles sailed each week.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “The Brexit ferry chaos on Chris Grayling’s watch has moved from farce to national scandal with the taxpayer picking up the bill.
“If he had listened to the maritime unions none of this would have happened. Grayling has reduced the shipping industry in this island nation to a global laughing stock.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “The public will rightly be furious but they won’t be surprised.
“Chris Failing Grayling’s utter incompetence has all too often seen millions of pounds from the public purse blown time and again.
“Grayling really is the helmsman of this Tory ship of Brexit farce which is fast sinking below the electoral waterline. ”
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “Chris Grayling and the ferry contracts will for evermore be a case study in ministerial incompetence.
“The Transport Secretary’s approach to procurement and planning has cost taxpayers tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds. His career as a minister has left a trail of scorched earth and billions of pounds of public money wasted.
“This country cannot afford Chris Grayling.”