The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, is no longer welcome in Calais, according to the port’s chairman, who has been angered by British plans to divert some sea traffic in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau reportedly accused the UK cabinet minister of behaving in a “completely disrespectful” manner on Tuesday.
“Mr Grayling came to us in November and asked us if we would be ready. We told him ‘yes’, though we did not know as much as we know today. He did not tell us that he wanted to reduce the activity [at Calais].
“It is not fair at all, it is completely disrespectful. I don’t want to see him again,” Puissesseau told the Daily Telegraph.
The UK government has awarded contracts to three firms as it seeks to bypass congestion it predicts will mount up in Calais as a result of extra customs checks, which ministers believe will need to be carried out following a no-deal Brexit.
Without contingency plans, the government fears deliveries of food and medicine could be delayed.
Puissesseau has previously insisted no such disruption is likely because Calais has been planning for a no-deal Brexit for a year. In January, he told the BBC: “It’s wrong, it’s not true that there will not be more delay … The only thing we will be asking of the driver is that they have their customs declarations, but we will not stop and ask more than we are doing today.”
And, speaking to the Telegraph on Tuesday, he added: “We didn’t ask for Brexit, but we have spent the money for traffic to flow regularly.”
Puissesseau has not been the only one to express displeasure at the UK government’s plans. Jacques Gounon, the chief executive of Eurotunnel’s parent company, has said the awarding of the ferry operator contracts was “distortionary and anti-competitive” and would be a “unilateral breach not only of the concession agreement with Eurotunnel, but more widely of existing competition and state aid law”.
It has been reported that the government plans to pay a law firm £800,000 for advice in anticipation of a legal action brought by the company.
Reacting to Puissesseau’s comments on Tuesday, the Labour MP and supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, Virendra Sharma, said: “Surely this is peak Chris Grayling, only this time he’s gone international. All he needs to do now is release a statement blaming everyone else and his predictable path of chaos will be complete.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “While the transport secretary strongly supports work across government with the EU to ensure a deal is reached, he will also continue to lead the DfT to ensure all contingencies are prepared for concerning Brexit.”