Ferry case adds to list of Grayling mishaps

John Pienaar
Deputy political editor
@JPonpoliticson Twitter

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Image source, Getty Images

To call Chris Grayling accident prone would be to defy the laws of probability.

Put simply, no-one's that unlucky.

In the case of the hapless transport secretary, there have to be other explanations - and there are.

The government's no-deal Brexit planning was late in getting started. Ministers were wary of encouraging the impression that the Brexit talks could fail.

Chris Grayling ran to catch up and stumbled, first awarding a ferry contract to a ferry company with no ships and ultimately no financial backing; and provoking a lawsuit from Eurotunnel in the process.

It might have happened to any minister but it happened to one with an established record of mishaps and mistakes.

He was judged to bear blame for the rail timetable chaos of last summer. After first trying to dodge that blame, he admitted he hadn't asked "tough enough" questions, and took it.

It didn't help when rail season tickets leapt in cost and he was, eventually, found in the Gulf.

Image source, PA

If he thought he'd left his heavily blotted copy book behind when he switched from the Ministry of Justice to Transport, he obviously thought wrong.

His book ban in prisons - ruled unlawful in the High Court - is still remembered.

And today's news that the National Audit Office has published a highly critical report on his part-privatisation of the Probation Service comes with the kind of timing which suggests Mr Grayling must, with a thoroughness his critics would find surprising, have offended the gods of every religion on Earth.

Ministers make mistakes. Sometimes they're held to blame for errors for which they hold executive, but no personal, responsibility. Chris Grayling's managed to tick both boxes. Often.

Today, Downing Street says the prime minister has "full confidence" in her transport secretary. Some Tory colleagues were surprised Mr Grayling survived Theresa May's last cabinet reshuffle.

Since then, she has been rather busy.

If her Brexit plan survives, and she survives long enough afterwards, and those are still quite big "ifs", a final decision on Chris Grayling's cabinet career looks like becoming unfinished business.

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