Theresa May continues to have full confidence in Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said.
The display of support came amid calls for Mr Grayling’s resignation from MPs across the Commons after a controversial no-deal Brexit ferry contract awarded to a firm with no ships was cancelled.
The Transport Secretary’s decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million (€15.7m) to run services between Ramsgate and Ostend had attracted widespread criticism.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had decided to terminate the contract after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne Freight, stepped away from the deal.
But MPs – including pro-EU Tories – said Mr Grayling should take responsibility for the situation and resign.
Conservative former business minister Anna Soubry said Mr Grayling “should be quietly considering his position”.
“He has no grip on the very serious nature of his job,” she told The Observer. “The Prime Minister should also be considering whether there is not someone else who could do the job better.”
“We are already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity, including through the port of Ramsgate, in the event of no deal.”
Labour said Mr Grayling “has to go”, with Jeremy Corbyn describing the situation as “completely ludicrous”.
And Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “The Government did not need a siren’s call to get into chaos over a contract with a ferry company, all they needed was to put Chris Grayling in charge.”
Asked whether Mr Grayling had the PM’s confidence, Mrs May’s official spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: “Yes.”
The spokesman added: “In relation to Seaborne, we were clear that it would need to meet specific milestones in order to fulfill its contractual obligations.
“It is obviously ultimately important that we protect taxpayers’ money.”
The PM’s spokesman said he understood that no taxpayers’ money had yet been spent on the contract.
He added: “We are already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity, including through the port of Ramsgate, in the event of no deal.
“There is no threat to contracts with DFDS or Brittany Ferries, who will be providing around 90% of additional capacity in the event of no deal.”
Mr Grayling last month defended the Seaborne Freight contract, insisting it was “not a risk”.
It was one of three firms awarded contracts totalling £108 million in late December to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain leaves the EU, despite having never run a Channel service.
The department said it had been Arklow Shipping’s backing that gave it confidence in the viability of the deal, and that it stands by the robust due diligence carried out on Seaborne Freight.
It added that no taxpayer money had been transferred to the company.