Chris Grayling shows that a shipping company with no ships isn’t a problem when you’re a minister with no brain
What must life be like on Planet Grayling? Where everyone can tell you you’re wrong, you disagree, and then when it turns out they’re right, you and you alone think it’s proof they were wrong all along?
When it was first pointed out to Chris Grayling that the company he had given a £14m shipping contract to did not, in fact, have any ships, and that its terms and conditions had been copied and pasted from a takeaway delivery website, his reaction was to say that was completely fine, and anyone who disagreed “didn’t understand business”.
He’s had to cancel that contract now, on account of the shipless shipping company – and this will shock you – not being able to deliver on the contract it was given. And on Monday he was summoned to the despatch box of the House of Commons where, guess what, he said that this too was completely fine, and that anyone who disagreed “didn’t understand business”.
What must life be like on Planet Grayling? Where the entire world can tell you you’re in the wrong, you disagree, and then when it turns out they were so very obviously right, you and you alone think it’s proof they were wrong all along?
Perhaps awarding a shipping contract to a shipping company with no ships seems perfectly normal when you yourself have been awarded an important job despite having no brain. And when you have no brain, it’s also perfectly normal to come to the despatch box of the House of Commons to excuse the inexcusable and not actually bring any excuses with you.
Anyway, the main bit of “news” from Grayling’s statement on the “startup business” Seaborne Freight farce was that he was now able to release new “market-sensitive” information on why it absolutely, definitely, wasn’t his fault. It turned out, you see, that a big Irish shipping company called Arklow Shipping had told him Seaborne Freight were absolutely fine.
But then, two weeks ago, Arklow had decided that actually, Seaborne Freight weren’t fine, and had pulled the plug on their association with them. So one of the most short-lived and most richly comic government contracts of recent times had ceased to be.
This is the point at which it gets either really strange or entirely predictable, depending on whether you are or are not Grayling. Arklow Shipping had decided that one of the main problems with Seaborne Freight is that they’d been hired to take ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend, but they hadn’t actually managed to secure any kind of agreement with Ramsgate port to allow them to take their (non-existent) ferries there.
It’s hard to know where to start with the metaphors. The Seaborne Freight contract is perhaps best understood as it being the late 1980s, and Grayling has seen no problem at all with booking a flight to Tehran with new British startup, Salman Rushdie Airways. It’s not just that Salman Rushdie Airways has got no planes, and no pilot’s license. It’s that he’s kind of not allowed even to go to the destination itself.
Still, in other news, Grayling has, he confirmed, got rid of his government car and driver, and has instead given the contract to startup business “Prince Phil’s minicabs”. At the moment, Prince Phil doesn’t actually have a minicab, but anyone who thinks that’s a problem “doesn’t understand business” so it’ll all be fine.
All he could say was that everything would have been peachy, until it emerged that he could blame it all on a company called Arklow. “The principal backer changed its mind,” he said. Grayling, in theory, still has a principal backer. Her name is Theresa May. What really is extraordinary is that there is almost nothing on which she has not changed her mind. Apart from Grayling, a project in which she is hopelessly overinvested, and terrifyingly exposed.