Tom Richmond: Chris Grayling’s failings exposed again – as he tries to blame Chancellor for ferry farce

TWO days after I suggested in this paper that it would be cheaper for Chris Grayling to be paid to stay at home and do nothing, the Transport Secretary is once again appearing to blame others – a familiar fault – for myriad policy failings which are now too numerous to list.

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It comes after the Government paid £33m in compensation to Eurotunnel to avoid a High Court battle after the Department for Transport awarded contracts to three ferry companies – including Seaborne Freight (the mysterious outfit with no ships) – to transport essential medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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As previously reported, Eurotunnel was piqued that it had been excluded from this process. Yet, after going into hiding for 96 hours, the all-at-sea Mr Grayling did turn up – or was told to – for a SNP-led debate on the scandal in which Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff greeted him with the words ‘Ahoy there’.

Chris Grayling continues to cling to his political career.

And after saying a ‘Cabinet committee’ took the decision, rather than himself, Mr Grayling was posed an intriguing question by Brexiteer backbencher Mark Francois, an outspoken member of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s hardline European Research Group.

The Tory suggested the difficulty was the fault of Philip Hammond, the Remain-supporting Chancellor, for being slow in releasing funds to help Whitehall ministries prepare for Brexit contingencies. He added: “Does my right hon. Friend think it would be helpful in future if the Chancellor were to lean forward a bit more to ensure that all preparations are fully funded in good time?”

The opaque reply? “I will leave my right hon. Friend to make his point, because I do not want to start debating discussions within Government,” said Mr Grayling who claimed that he wasn’t responsible for the trains during last year’s timetable chaos.

This can be construed as a desperate attempt by Mr Grayling to throw the Chancellor overboard when he should have said, just days before a second meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, that Ministers – and MPs – need to be working together to resolve Britain’s future.

Has a politician been more unpopular than Chris Grayling?

All Mr Grayling, a prominent Brexiteer, did was encourage his unhelpful colleague, and others, to focus on the political personalities, rather than policy pragmatism, when the public expect their politicians to get on with the job of honouring the 2016 referendum result – with the exception of Chris Grayling who they just want out of office for good.

NO wonder the social care Green Paper is almost as late as Chris Grayling’s rail improvements. Matt Hancock, the relevant Cabinet Minister, spent part of Monday criticising Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, for being out of the country in the immediate aftermath of the latest stabbings in the capital.

He then answered questions in Parliament on the Government’s £33m payout to Eurotunnel because Mr Grayling was missing/unavailable (you decide). How about publishing the plan for social care, Mr Hancock, as public satisfaction with the NHS continues to fall, before worrying about your own career advancement?

WHEN I revealed David Cameron’s ‘love letters’ exactly three years ago, namely a cut-and-paste article sent around the country expressing his passion for each and every region as part of some tourism promotion, I thought Downing Street’s media operation might have learned its lesson.

No. When Theresa May visited Salisbury to mark the first anniversary of the Russian nerve agent attack in the Wiltshire cathedral city, a picture of Bath was used to illustrate 10 Downing Street’s tweet.

I don’t blame Mrs May. Either her press team lacks knowledge of basic geography – or Chris Grayling was left in temporary charge of the Twitter feed. I’m still undecided over which explanation is the more plausible.

FIRST the good news. Chris Grayling does not feature in a new poll of Tory activists to determine their choice to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. The bad news is Boris Johnson tops the list in spite of the former Foreign Secretary’s reluctance to participate in programmes like Question Time and Any Questions? in fear that he might be embarrassed by audience members.

He is not alone. Jeremy Corbyn continues to shun Radio Four’s Today programme while Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, does, in fairness, do such programmes in spite of the unjustifiable personal abuse that invariably follows. Yet the trend for senior politicians to avoid such inquisitions is unhealthy. Engaging with the public, and opponents, would, I believe, help make MPs better leaders and decision-makers.

THIS is how slowly the Department for Transport operates. The Rail Minister Andrew Jones finally made it to Hull this week, nine months after an invitation was first issued to his predecessor Jo Johnson to discuss problems with services in the city. A private meeting, it could have been held at Parliament months ago.

SO next week’s Brexit votes – and Spring Statement – will clash with the Cheltenham Festival, the annual four-day celebration of National Hunt racing. I assume this is a ruse by Tory whips to keep rebels like Shipley MP Philip Davies, a man of the turf, away from Westminster. Don’t bet against it.

TALKING of Cheltenham where Definitly Red will be going for long-overdue Gold Cup glory for Yorkshire, it remains one of the iconic sporting events where the vanquished are still the first to congratulate the victors. Long may this last.