THE collapse of talks to transfer two P&O Portsmouth vessels and 350 jobs to Brittany Ferries is a "massive blow", Southampton Labour MP John Denham said today. He accused P&O of letting ferry workers down.

Brittany decided to back out of the deal to provide a replacement service from Portsmouth to Le Havre six months after announcing the plan because it was no longer "commercially sound".

P&O stunned Hampshire last September when it axed routes to Caen, Cherbourg and Le Havre from Portsmouth as part of a review that cost 1,200 jobs.

The Portsmouth to Le Havre route will now close in September, P&O said, adding that there was "no question mark'' over the future of its service from Portsmouth to Bilbao, Spain.

Stiff competition from low-cost airlines and Eurotunnel are behind P&O's decision to quit the routes.

Nationally, it reduced the number of ships from 31 to 23 in a bid to save £51m.

A spokesman said: "P&O is naturally very disappointed with this decision and the implications it has for 350 staff who would otherwise have transferred to Brittany Ferries.

Mr Denham said: "P&O's decision to cut these vessels is a massive blow to their workers and their families. It's also a real setback for the UK shipping industry as a whole.''