CHRIS Grayling has come under attack for awarding a £13.8 million contract for ferry services across the English Channel to a company that has no ships, as part of the UK Government’s no-deal Brexit preparations.

The Transport Secretary was forced to defend the move following widespread criticism to hand the deal to the UK firm Seaborne Freight, which has never previously operated a similar service.

Grayling told BBC Radio yesterday: “It’s a new start-up business, government is supporting new British business and there is nothing wrong with that.”

“We have looked very carefully at this business, we have put in place a tight contract that makes sure they can deliver for us. I don’t see any problem with supporting a new British business.”

He said the firm would be ready to deliver services from April and had been “looked at very carefully by a team of civil servants who have done due diligence on the company and reached a view they can deliver”.

Seaborne Freight was one of three companies awarded contracts totalling £108 million last week to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The company aims to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer.

But a Conservative county councillor for the Kent port town said he did not believe it would be possible to set up a new service from Ramsgate by the scheduled date of Brexit on March 29 .

Councillor Paul Messenger also questioned whether the Government had carried out sufficient checks on the firm, telling the BBC: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14 million? I don’t understand the logic of that.”

Seaborne was established two years ago and has been in negotiations about running freight ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend, but no services are currently running. Narrow berths in the port mean there are few suitable commercial vessels available.

The company has said it has been working since 2017 on plans to reintroduce ferry sailings from Ramsgate from early 2019. It said the business has been “financed by the shareholders” during a development phase involving “locating suitable vessels, making arrangements with the ports of Ostend and Ramsgate, building the infrastructure as well as crewing the ferries once they start operating”. It added: “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.”

No cross-Channel service has been based in Ramsgate since 2013.