THE plot thickens yet further over the Government's award of a £13.8m no-deal Brexit contract to provide a freight shipping service between Ramsgate and Ostend, Belgium, to a firm with no ferries.

As if that wasn't enough of a worry, yesterday a senior civil servant suggested that the Department for Transport simply took the word of the start-up ferry company that it had financial backing before awarding the contract.

DfT permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly said a "formal letter" was not received from Arklow Shipping that it intended to support Seaborne Freight until January 15 – weeks after the deal was agreed. The contract was axed last week when Arklow Shipping pulled out.

Speaking to the Commons' Public Accounts Committee, Ms Kelly insisted the department "did do due diligence," Seaborne's business model was "a plausible one" and the fact it was planning to lease ships rather than own them was "not in any way abnormal or remarkable".

Be that as it may, it is highly concerning that a contract of this nature could be awarded in the first place without financial assurances being received in writing, then verified, double checked and checked again.

It would be too easy to blame civil servants in isolation for this seeming lack of scrutiny – the focus on attention to detail has to come from the top, and that means Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, and ultimately, the Prime Minister. In the days and weeks ahead, that focus is going to be needed more than ever.