THE UK Government was aware of P&O’s plans to axe hundreds of staff members the day before staff were told, it has emerged.

P&O Ferries are expected to halve crewing costs by replacing 800 seafarers with agency workers, according to the boss of the ferry operator.

Demonstrations over the cuts are being held at ports on Friday and outside the Conservative Party’s spring conference in Blackpool on Saturday, with unions saying they are receiving massive support for the move to be reversed.

According to Boris Johnson’s official spokesman, some officials in the Department for Transport were told of the plan on Wednesday night – but they insisted the Prime Minister wasn’t informed.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon tells P&O boss of her 'disgust' at redundancies

The spokesperson said details had been “kept tight” for “commercial sensitivity” reasons. He would not say when the Prime Minister learned of the company’s plan.

He added that he didn’t believe officials had told ministers about the company’s plan ahead of staff finding out. However, he stressed this is a question for that department.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has said ministers do not believe P&O explored all possible avenues to secure the future of their business before making staff redundant.

The P&O Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury remain at the Port of Dover in Kent

“We expect companies to treat employees fairly,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

“It is only in extreme circumstances that employers need to make extreme decisions to secure the future of their business if all other avenues have failed, including negotiations between employer and employee.

“We don’t believe this was the case for P&O staff but we are looking into this very carefully.

“The actions this company took yesterday are deeply disappointing and will be causing deep upset amongst loyal staff.”