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Government can’t stop Liverpool flouting cruise rules
THE Government last night said it was “powerless” to prevent Liverpool flouting restrictions on its cruise terminal.
Shipping Minister Mike Penning insisted Southampton and other ports would not lose out financially, insisting he believed in “fair competition”.
He revealed that Liverpool had yet to make any attempt to repay any of the £8.9m it owes the Government, telling MPs: “Have Liverpool done what we asked them to do? No. Have I got the power to stop them? No.”
Mr Penning was speaking in a Parliamentary debate arranged by Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes to call for an injunction stopping Liverpool from launching cruises until its state aid funding had been resolved.
His response to Mrs Nokes was described by Southampton port chief Doug Morrison as “eloquent waffle”.
Not a single Liverpool MP was in Westminster Hall to defend their city’s conduct.
Ms Nokes said MPs from different part of the UK were “flummoxed, angry, or both” at the way the rules had been applied.
She quoted the European Commission's “unequivocal" rules on state aid, saying the help given to Liverpool could have a detrimental impact on ports as far away as Marseille and Copenhagen.
It was clear that the rules, and the “concept of natural fairness” had been breached, she said.
Liverpool’s decision to press ahead with turnaround cruises was “a massive twofingered salute to the Government and to anyone’s idea of fair play”, she said.
She demanded an injunction to prevent more turnaround cruises until all issues had been resolved, asked ministers to press Liverpool to repay its European grants, and ensure than an “anything goes” approach to taxpayers’ money is stopped.
But Mr Penning said the legal advice he had taken was that the proposed repayment of £8.9m would not be anti-competitive and that he could not intervene.
The European Commission has yet to award state aid clearance to the deal, and no decision has been made on whether a further £8.6m of EU funds should be repaid.
Mr Penning suggested this would not need to happen, saying: “The European Commission has never asked for any of this funding back in cases similar so this.”
He added: “What I have tried to do through all of this is to make sure competition is fair.”
Speaking after the debate, Mr Morrison said: “To say they’ve not made any contact as to how they will repay the money is bizarre.”