Wednesday, 09 January 2019 14:55

UK GOVERNMENT’S BOTCHED NO-DEAL FERRY CONTRACT BROUGHT UNDER FURTHER LEGAL SCRUTINY

SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC has warned that the UK government has serious legal questions to answer over its decision to award a £14m contract to Seaborne Freight in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The SNP MP has called on the UK government to publish the legal advice it received before it proceeded with awarding the contract under Regulation 32 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

The regulation allows the contracting authority – in this case the UK government – to award a contract without prior publication or a competitive tender process in cases of “extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable.” Provided that the circumstances invoked to justify the extreme urgency are not brought about by the contracting authority.

However at today’s Brexit Committee, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, the UK government’s Under Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, confirmed that the government’s Brexit department has had members dealing with no-deal planning since the department was formed over two years ago. The minister was also unable to identify the circumstances of extreme urgency or the unforeseeable event which the UK government believes justified proceeding under Regulation 32.

The UK government’s decision to award Seaborne Freight the contract has already come under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that the company does not have any ships to run ferries in the event of a no-deal, and that it copied terms and conditions that were intended for a takeaway firm.

Joanna Cherry QC MP, who is a member of the Brexit Committee, said:

“There are now very serious legal questions for the UK government to answer over its £14m contract with Seaborne Freight.

“The UK government states that it awarded the contract under Regulation 32 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which enable the Contracting Authority to push ahead without prior publication or a competitive tender process in circumstances of ‘extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable’ - provided that the circumstances invoked to justify the extreme urgency are not brought about by the contracting authority. Clearly a no-deal Brexit is not a circumstance unforeseen by the government and, even if it was, it would be a circumstance brought about by the government.

“The UK government must now come clean and publish the legal advice it received before it decided to proceed under Regulation 32, and outline what unforeseeable event led the government to pursue this legal route given its original claim has now been rebuffed. I shall be calling upon the Attorney General to do so when I reply to his speech in the Brexit Debate next Tuesday.

“The decision to award Seaborne Freight with a £14m contract has rightly come under scrutiny after the company was found to have no ships to run the service, and that it copied and pasted terms and conditions that were intended for a takeaway company. However, today’s revelation highlights the possible serious breach of the law.”

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