Chris Grayling left red-faced after MP meetings to discuss rail cancellations are cancelled
Chris Grayling has been mocked after he was forced to cancel a string of meetings with MPs to discuss rail cancellations.
The beleaguered Transport Secretary has faced mounting criticism over the past few days, as hundreds of trains services in the north of England were disrupted following the introduction of new timetables.
Grayling had promised to meet MPs from the areas affected face-to-face to discuss their concerns.
But in a major embarrassment, the minister's team were forced to send out an email to re-arrange the talks because of there was not enough time to fit them all in.
Tory MP James Heappey, who is Grayling's Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Transport Secretary, wrote: “We’ve had a large number of colleagues asking for a meeting with Chris Grayling or Jo Johnson to discuss the timetable changes and subsequent disruption on the Northern and Govia Thameslink network.
“We’ve tried to accommodate people on a first come first served basis but, even with appointments running solidly between 6-10pm for both ministers, we’ve been unable to accommodate a significant number of colleagues at this stage.”
In the email Heappey revealed that “over 60 colleagues” had demanded talks with ministers over the debacle and urged MPs to be “as flexible as possible” and open to meeting as part of “a small group so that we can maximise numbers”.
Responding to the news, Labour MP Lisa Nandy – whose Wigan constituency was affected by the disruption – said: "The Government’s handling of the Northern rail crisis has been complete chaos. While trains have ground to a halt the silence from government has been deafening.
"The Transport Secretary gave MPs just 10 minutes each to discuss their concerns with him – only to cancel or rearrange many of them as result of ‘unexpectedly’ high demand.
"We have been warning him that these problems were developing for months and still there seems to be little or no understanding of the level of human misery this is causing.
"It’s time to strip Arriva Rail North of its franchise and take our public transport out of the hands of London based Ministers and civil servants who never use it and have no idea of the cost of getting it wrong. Four years ago we were promised a Northern Powerhouse. What a joke that now seems.”
Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne also hit out, saying the Department for Transport's handling of the crisis was “beyond parody”.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister added: "We have tremendous sympathy with everyone who has had their rail journey delayed or disrupted. What we've seen has been totally unaccpetable.
"The Transport Secretary is in constant talks with Network Rail and he has been clear with them that they were too late in finalising the timetabling changes and that this must not happen again."
However, the spokesman insisted Theresa May retained "full confidence" in Grayling.
A cross-party group of MPs – including Tory backbencher Bim Afolami - confronted Grayling over the rail disruptions, saying their constituents were angry over delays and cancellations that had led to them being late for work, missing medical appointments and being separated from family members.