The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP is a deeply odd man, even by the high standards of the Tory party. In each of his three ministerial roles, he has a frankly impressive record of removing funding from the most essential services he could get his hands on. As Minister of State for Employment, he made about 20,000 of his own employees redundant. Genius! In his role as Justice Minister, he reduced state legal aid ensuring the poorest people would be even more unfairly treated by a so-called justice system. Bravo, Chris! You’ve outdone yourself.
You may be wondering how he could beat that in terms of sheer counter-intuitiveness; how he could possibly cut something more ridiculously fundamental. Well, never knowingly overestimated, Grayling has managed it. Take a moment to sympathise with his position. You’re a Transport Secretary seemingly hellbent on cutting necessities. You have a straightforward mission: get someone with a few boats to move some cargo across the Channel. What’s the most essential thing you could tamper with? What’s the most imaginative way to balls up this remarkably simple task? Whatever you’ve come up with, it’s not insane enough. Chris Grayling has awarded a freight ferry contract… to a company that owns no ferries.
Seaborne Freight, the company in question, is clearly an establishment held in the highest esteem by Grayling. We must take him at his word that they were researched thoroughly. At the time of writing, however, their website boasts a peculiarly empty timetable, because there’s nothing to put on it. In case you forgot, THEY OWN NO FERRIES! They have less than three months to acquire ferries, hire and train staff, and start running services. They have already reported delays to this process.
I don’t know what Grayling imagined would happen. Perhaps he thought that, come the day of Brexit, he’d tip up to Ramsgate port ready to unveil his new trade route. He’d cut the ribbon on the crane and watch as it ceremoniously dumped the shipping containers into the sea, just where the ferries should be. One by one, the containers would fall to the floor of the Channel, laden down by crates of Britain’s main post-Brexit export: jam. The national anthem would play, and Grayling would be lauded throughout for his uncompromising belief in Brexit.
One is moved to wonder what Chris Grayling would be like in other jobs. While his propensity to cut everything except his expenses (he claimed £5000 to redecorate his taxpayer-funded apartment in Pimlico, less than 20 miles from his constituency home) might make him a good DFS salesman or hairdresser, there are very few other jobs you could see him excelling in . As a teacher he’d probably get rid of the pupils and teach to an empty classroom. If he drove an ice-cream van, he’d pull up to the curb playing “Turkey in the Straw”, turn the engine off, and start handing out empty cones to bitterly disappointed children…If he were a road safety officer, he’d throw away his lollipop and high-vis and just stand beside the road, watching the cars speed past.
Grayling will be remembered as Transport Secretary for several things: telling ministers in Japan – home of the bullet train – that the UK has better trains than them; failing to remove a single drone from above the UK’s second largest airport; and claiming cycle lanes were “a problem for road users” after knocking a man off his bike with a car door. Even amongst such strong competition, the decision to award the contract is his strangest gaffe yet.