THE shipping minister is expected to rule this week on Liverpool’s bid to grab a slice of Southampton’s lucrative cruise trade.

Mike Penning will tell MPs how much public money Liverpool will have to pay back for the right to host turnaround cruises at its taxpayer funded £21m Pier Head terminal.

The Mersey city is already preparing to open a new temporary customs and baggage check-in marquee at the City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal ready to start and finish its first cruise on May 29.

Southampton and other UK cruise ports are demanding all public handouts are repaid so their privately funded operations are not threatened by an unfair playing field.

Euro MPs are now preparing to meet the EU’s competition chief to demand Liverpool fully repay £9m in European cash that match funded UK grants for construction of the terminal on the strict condition it could not be used to start and finish cruises.

South-east Tory MEP Daniel Hannan and his North East counterpart Martin Callanan, chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, are set to meet the EU competition commissioner in coming weeks.

Liverpool, which had an initial £5.3m repayment offer rejected by ministers, has not proposed to pay back any EU cash, claiming that there is no overriding legal requirement to do so.

Speaking on a visit to Southampton Mr Hannan said: “It’s about fairness. I’ve got nothing at all against Liverpool dock. If I were a north-west MEP I would still say that this is outrageous.”

He added: “The EU requirements on competition law are tougher than the UK.

“The EU is explicitly forbidden in the clearest language that lawyers can devise from giving any grants to anyone where it constitutes unfair competition. So the only way forward is they pay the money back.”

He added: “You can never be certain with the EU because it’s such a bizarre organisation but the law is so clear, so open and shut, it’s very difficult to see how they could let it stand.”

Liverpool city mayor Joe Anderson has been accused of trying to bounce a decision by pressing ahead with the construction of a 1,200 capacity customs and baggage check-in facility ready for the MV Ocean Countess to become the first cruise liner in 40 years to operate a turnaround passenger voyage from its Pier Head landing stage.

Liverpool’s other existing turnaround facility is at the commercial harbour in Langton Dock, next to a scrapheap.