More controversy erupted today over the “shipping company with no ships” awarded a £14 million Brexit contract when it was claimed it had cut and pasted a food delivery website’s legal terms.
Seaborne Freight’s website contains a page of “terms and conditions” that refer to the delivery of meals and the responsibility of customers to give drivers the correct address.
Baffled MPs said the only explanation appeared to be that the company had copied the legal text from a template and inserted its own name into it.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson mocked the company on Twitter, writing: “Seaborne Freight. No ships, no trading history and website T&Cs copied and pasted from a takeaway delivery site…”
The Evening Standard attempted to contact the firm on the two telephone numbers it lists on the website, but calls were greeted by a recorded message stating: “There is currently no one available to take your call.”
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was this week forced to defend his decision to award a contract for shipping goods after Brexit to the company when it was revealed it did not own any ferries and has never previously operated a ferry route. “I make no apologies for supporting a new British business,” he told BBC radio, adding: “We have put in place a tight contract to make sure they can deliver for us.”
The apparent website blunder will heighten concerns about whether the company’s service will be ready on time. The T&Cs state: “It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order.” Another section refers to home deliveries, saying: “It is the responsibility of the customer to ensure delivery address details are correct and detailed enough for the delivery driver to locate the address in adequate time.” Shortly after the Standard emailed the company asking for an explanation, both paragraphs were removed from the website.
Seaborne’s contract was one of three awarded to charter extra ferries to ease congestion if the United Kingdom fails to secure a withdrawal deal before leaving the European Union in March. The company says it is planning a service between Ramsgate, near Dover, and Ostend in Belgium.
No-deal fears have been heightened by the Prime Minister, who is attempting to persuade MPs to back her withdrawal agreement in a meaningful vote in the Commons on January 14.
No 10 is playing down the chances of a breakthrough in Mrs May’s attempts to persuade EU leaders to clarify that a backstop on the Irish border to show it would be only temporary and quell a major revolt among MPs.
The developments came as MPs threatened to block Cabinet ministers’ salaries if the Government ignores the Commons and allows a no-deal Brexit. Writing in today’s Standard, former Labour minister Chris Leslie says Parliament must “show its teeth”.
“If ministers show contempt for Commons resolutions, MPs should simply refuse to supply the money to pay all ministerial salaries,” he said. “And that would be just the start.”
Dredgers today began work in Ramsgate under emergency plans to upgrade the Kent harbour into a freight port if Mrs May’s deal fails to get through.
A spokesman for Seaborne Freight later said: “Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited (SFL) is currently making preparations across its business for re-introducing the Ramsgate to Ostend Ferry service and has been working on the project for the past two years. Naturally these preparations include ongoing updates to its pre-launch website, including T&Cs.”