Southampton’S cruise business rival has been accused of breaking the law after launching its first turnaround voyage last night.

City MP John Denham accused Liverpool of jumping the gun by starting a cruise less than a week after the Government said restrictions on the city would be lifted if it paid back public cash used to build a new terminal.

Shipping minister Mike Penning said the city would no longer be limited to offering calling cruises if it makes a one-off payment of £8.8m, or £12.6m over 15 years.

Despite him adding that the removal of the restriction by the Government would depend on the European Commission granting state aid clearance, as £8.6m of European cash was used to build it, last night the 740- passenger Ocean Countess left the terminal.

Labour Southampton Itchen MP Mr Denham said he believes Liverpool should have waited for the official green light before launching turnaround cruises.

He said: “Not until Liverpool has repaid the money and Brussels agreed to it will the restrictions be lifted. Liverpool is certainly going against the restrictions. The rules are there to protect fair competition for everybody.

“Brussels needs to decide if this is legal. If they are breaking the law the Government needs to stop them.”