Chris Grayling is looking to sign new no-deal Brexit ferry contracts

Transport secretary Chris Grayling. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Chris Grayling is getting his cheque book out again as the transport secretary searches out new freight services to supply essentials in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Grayling's department will seek a list of suppliers to provide freight capacity for critical supply chains "as and when required", cabinet secretary David Lidington has said, after the last set of contracts were cancelled.

Lidington said the new agreement would not commit the government to buying or reserving freight capacity, after the cost of the previous cancelled contracts.

Grayling had awarded contracts worth a total of more than £100 million to three firms to run extra services from ports to ease anticipated pressure on the Dover-Calais route.

But sailings went ahead even though feared disruption to essential supplies such as food and medicine did not materialise when the initial Brexit date of March 29 was postponed.

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It was being made clear that lessons had been learned.

After a period of consultation and tender, it is understood that the Department for Transport's new contracts with ferry or train operators will not be signed until closer to the dates that services are required to prevent unnecessary costs.

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The latest emergency arrangements are being sought with about four months to go to the revised date for exiting the EU on October 31.

Also announced in Lidington's written statement to MPs was a plan for an "express freight contingency arrangement" for medicines and medical products requiring "urgent delivery".

This would allow urgently required medical goods to be shipped within 24 to 48 hours if the other ferry plans failed.

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry chief executive Mike Thompson said: "Our members will be pleased that the Government are taking steps to put this capacity in place again and await further information about how this will work in practice.

"However, it is extremely challenging for pharmaceutical companies to be continually preparing for a no-deal Brexit."

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