Chris Grayling refuses to resign and defends £33m no-deal Brexit contracts payout

(c) Sky News 2019: <a href="">Chris Grayling refuses to resign and defends £33m no-deal Brexit contracts payout</a>

The transport secretary has defied calls to resign and defended a £33m payout to avoid court action over no-deal Brexit planning.

Chris Grayling said he would "carry on serving the prime minister as long as she wants me to" in his first public comments since the government's announcement on the payout last week .

He avoided being dragged to parliament to answer MPs' questions on Monday, but spoke to journalists as he headed in for the weekly meeting of cabinet ministers on this morning.

Eurotunnel has dropped its legal action brought against the "secretive" process used to strike shipping deals aimed at ensuring critical supplies if Britain leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March.

It did so in exchange for a taxpayer-funded £33m payout, which will be used to improve security and traffic flow at its UK terminal.

Mr Grayling said: "We collectively last week decided, however regrettable the Eurotunnel court action was, that we had to take a decision to protect the interests of the country in the circumstance of a no-deal Brexit.

"That is the right thing to do."

He added that the contract agreed with a ferry company that was discovered to have no ferries was a "sensible part of contingency planning to make sure we had all the resources we needed... for the NHS".

It was later terminated after a key financial backer withdrew its support .

Mr Grayling also addressed the recent revelation that the number of offenders returned to prison for breaching terms of their release "sky rocketed" following the privatisation of some probation services .

He admitted the probation reforms he presided over as justice secretary from 2012-15 "hadn't worked as well as we would have wanted".

Downing Street said the £33m payout is "absolutely not" an attempt to keep details of the contentious ferry saga out of the public domain.

Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson has insisted she has "full confidence" in the transport secretary.

It comes as Mr Grayling was branded "an international embarrassment" after his "Failing Grayling" moniker attracted headlines on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

Following a string of mishaps , he 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 for seven years, was described by the newspaper as having become "a byword for haplessness in a golden age of political blundering in Britain".