U.K. Wants Brexit Ferry Fiasco Put On Trial

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February 25, 2019

Eurotunnel’s Dover-Calais ferry, Berlioz. Photo courtesy MyFerryLink

by Kaye Wiggins (Bloomberg) The U.K. government appears to want an upcoming trial over its controversial no-deal Brexit ferry contracts to be held in private, according to Eurotunnel, which is bringing the lawsuit.

Eurotunnel — which is suing the government over its award of three contracts worth 108 million pounds ($141 million) to handle freight shipments in a no-deal Brexit — Monday criticized transport secretary Chris Grayling’s approach in court filings for a pre-trial hearing. One of the contracts, which has since fallen through, went to a startup that didn’t own any ships.

The government has kept vital documents for the trial, including its defense and key witness statements, confidential while giving them to the court, Eurotunnel said.

“If that position remains, then all or the great majority of the trial will need to take place in private,” the company said. The trial is due to start March 1.

That approach is “unjustified, unfair and inimical to fundamental principles of open justice,” Eurotunnel said in its filings, adding that the government may want to “avoid publicity” over the trial.

The government said some material had to be kept confidential because disclosure would “likely prejudice the running of a fair competition” should it have to run the procurement exercise for the ferry contracts again.

It’d be “inappropriate” to disclose information about the parties that won the contracts without first consulting them, and it takes time to do that, the government said in its filings. A Department for Transport spokeswoman declined to comment.

It’s the latest in a dispute between the government and the companies that form Eurotunnel, which operates the undersea link between the U.K. and mainland Europe.

The companies, Channel Tunnel Group Ltd. and France-Manche SA, are suing the British government over its award of the ferry contracts, accusing it of a “secretive and flawed procurement exercise.”

The companies together form Eurotunnel, which has previously provided ferry services under the MyFerryLink brand. They say they should’ve been told about the ferry contracts, since they have a history of running services.

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