Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has defended the government’s choice of a UK company with no ships as one of the providers of extra ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Grayling told the BBC he would make no apologies for “supporting a new British business”.
The firm, Seaborne Freight, won a £13.8m contract to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend.
But a BBC investigation discovered it had never run a ferry service before.
Mr Grayling told the Today programme that the government had “looked very carefully” at the business.
“We have put in place a tight contract to make sure they can deliver for us,” he added.
The contract award notice, which has been published online, reveals that the tender process took place “without prior publication of a call for competition”.
It states that the limited process was due to “a situation of extreme urgency” in the run-up to the UK’s EU departure date.
On the future of cross-Channel operations, Mr Grayling said that he had “had detailed discussions with the French, with French counterparts”.
“They want to keep the Channel ports operating freely and I am confident that will happen.”
Seaborne Freight’s chief executive, Ben Sharp, said the company planned to start operations with two ships, before increasing to four by late summer.
Earlier, the Department for Transport confirmed that the company would only be paid if it ran “an effective service”.
The contract is one of three recently awarded to provide additional ferries between the UK and several European cities.
Other suppliers include France’s Brittany Ferries and Danish shipping firm DFDS.
The extra services are aimed to ease congestion at Dover if the UK leaves the EU without striking an exit deal with Brussels.