Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been branded “an international embarrassment” after his “Failing Grayling” moniker attracted headlines on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
Following recent criticism of his performance in various ministerial roles, Mr Grayling was the subject of an article in the New York Times on Monday.
The cabinet minister, who has sat at the top level of government since 2012, was described by the newspaper as having become “a byword for haplessness in a golden age of political blundering in Britain”.
And, while MPs digested the profile of Mr Grayling, the House of Commons spent the best part of 90 minutes on Monday afternoon focussing on two of his policy decisions to have attracted the most recent criticism.
With Mr Grayling absent from the Commons for the afternoon, his ministerial colleagues were forced to answer urgent questions on probation reforms from his time as justice secretary, as well as a £33m payment to Eurotunnel over controversial no-deal Brexit ferry contracts.
A recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) was highly critical of the part-privatisation of probation services, as carried out by Mr Grayling while in charge of the Ministry of Justice in 2013.
As a result of the changes, the department will be forced to spend £467m more than originally required while there had been a 22% rise in re-offences, the report said.
Seizing on its findings in the Commons on Monday, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told MPs the NAO assessment was “another damning indictment” of Mr Grayling.
“Once again the government’s part-privatisation of probation has been exposed as a dangerous experiment that left the public less safe and out of pocket,” said Mr Burgon.
Fellow Labour MP Karl Turner called for Mr Grayling to be sacked over the “shocking” conclusions of the report.
“Either very senior civil servants follow him [Mr Grayling] around giving him really bad advice or he is in fact just incredibly incompetent,” he added.
Justice minister Rory Stewart, who answered an urgent question from Mr Burgon on the subject on the government’s behalf, admitted the matter was “very serious”, adding: “There are big lessons that need to be drawn from this”.
Immediately after the urgent question on probation reforms, Mr Grayling’s ministerial record was attacked again as MPs scrutinised the payments to Eurotunnel.
In exchange for the cash, the firm has dropped legal action over the “secretive” process used to agree shipping contracts aimed at ensuring critical supplies are maintained in the event Britain leaves the EU without agreement on 29 March.
One of those government contracts, signed with Seaborne Freight, was heavily criticised after it was revealed the company did not have any ferries.
The deal was subsequently scrapped by the government after its financial backer Arklow Shipping pulled out.
Despite Mr Grayling’s Department for Transport being responsible for the shipping contracts, Health Secretary Matt Hancock answered an urgent question on the Eurotunnel payment on behalf of the government.
This saw Mr Hancock branded a “human shield” for his cabinet colleague.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald attacked Mr Grayling’s absence from the Commons, telling MPs: “Once again the transport secretary is not in his place to answer a question that’s been directed to him.
“His disregard for taxpayers and this House is clear.”
He added: “Even in this golden age of ministerial incompetence, the transport secretary stands out from the crowd.
“He leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, causing chaos and wasting billions of pounds.
“Yet, he shows no contrition, no acknowledgement of his mistakes nor any resolve to learn and improve.
“He’s now ridiculed in the New York Times… the transport secretary has become an international embarrassment.”
Mr Hancock defended the £33m payment to Eurotunnel as making sure “whatever happens in Brexit people can be safe”.
When asked directly where Mr Grayling was, Mr Hancock replied: “The transport secretary is working hard on making sure we improve the transport system.”
Amid the focus on Mr Grayling’s record in government, Downing Street has said Prime Minister Theresa May continues to have confidence in his abilities.
(c) Sky News 2019: Chris ‘failing’ Grayling goes missing amid international headlines