Article taken from: www.ft.com
Chris Grayling is a symbol of what is going wrong in Britain The transport secretary has racked up a litany of failures and should resign Chris Grayling: Britain’s railways are undergoing huge investments but successes have been overshadowed by mistakes © PA Save Print this page
There is no better metaphor for the current state of Britain than the ferry company without any ferries . Seaborne Freight was awarded a £13.8m contract by the Department for Transport to bring in supplies from Ostend to Ramsgate in the event of a no-deal Brexit . Yet Seaborne did not actually own any ships and was relying on an Irish company to deliver the service. That backer has pulled out and the contract duly cancelled.
Such levels of incompetence do not bode well, given the increasing chances of a no-deal exit from the EU in just 46 days. Until Prime Minister Theresa May sees her deal through parliament or opts to extend Article 50, this is the default outcome — with all the upheaval, economic shock and likely chaos that would ensue. The lack of due diligence on Seaborne raises questions about the UK government’s overall preparedness and whether food and medicine supplies will continue to flow.
The Department for Transport is obviously to blame for the Seabourne saga. Most of the ire is being targeted at the man at the top: Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. Nicknamed “failing Grayling” by opposition MPs, his tenure has included a litany of failures: the collapse of Virgin Trains East Coast; lengthy industrial disputes and disruption on Southern Rail; the disastrous launch of new railway timetables last spring. His previous record at the Ministry of Justice was equally controversial.
This is not an easy time to hold the transport brief. Britain’s railways are undergoing huge investment that is expected to produce sparkling new trains, more services and greater capacity over the next few years. Stations such as London Bridge and King’s Cross have been transformed. But such successes have been overshadowed by failures.
Whether or not Mr Grayling is at fault, someone has to take responsibility. His refusal to do so has turned him into a symbol of all that is wrong with this government. He is seen as an incompetent manager and a promoter of pipe dream projects that never come to fruition. His blithe reassurances that all will be right on the night ring hollow, and he appears to lack empathy and contrition.
His fellow conservative MPs say they are increasingly baffled as to why Mr Grayling has not tendered his resignation, or been asked by Mrs May to step aside. It is almost impossible to now find an MP who will defend his actions.
Brexit is one reason why he remains in situ: he was one of the ministers behind the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and the prime minister is aware she must keep Brexiters on side. There is also an element of personal loyalty — Mr Grayling supported Mrs May in her early political career as a local councillor.
Neither should be allowed to shield a secretary of state who is struggling to fulfil his brief. If businesses and the country generally are to have any faith in Brexit going smoothly, they must have confidence in transport.
That has to mean a new broom. Mr Grayling should do what is right for the government and the country and stand aside for someone better suited to the job. The decision to cancel the ferry contract should be a signal of further changes to come. Get alerts on UK politics & policy when a new story is published Get alerts Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Promoted Content