France must rescue Eurostar, says Grant Shapps

Oliver GillWed, 3 February 2021, 4:42 pm

Eurostar
Eurostar

Eurostar “is not our company to rescue”, the Government has said, insisting France must take responsibility for the bailout of the struggling Channel Tunnel operator.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said French taxpayers rather than their British counterparts must lead Eurostar’s rescue.

“We will look to be helpful, but we don’t actually own this company,” he said. “It is not our company to rescue.”

Eurostar has warned it is on track to collapse after passenger numbers fell 95pc during the pandemic. The operator is pleading for a bailout before it runs out of cash this summer.

David Cameron sold Britain’s stake in Eurostar in 2015 for £750m. It is now majority-owned by French state operator SNCF, which has already injected €200m (£178m) of emergency funds.

French ministers have insisted that the UK must play its part in new funding.

Mr Shapps said the UK could be willing to offer loan guarantees similar to those handed to British Airways and easyJet at the end of December and January. “Things like UK export finance could be a route for Eurostar.”

However, he added: “It is primarily a French lead to deal with Eurostar. We will be as helpful as possible but we are clear that it is a French company.”

Meanwhile, Mr Shapps defended the Government’s decision to freeze pay for rail workers for up to two years.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris wrote to rail bosses last week telling them there was “no budget” for pay risesThe Sunday Telegraph reported.

He told MPs the Commons Transport select committee that the Government had “not walked away” from the rail industry.

“The Chancellor has … said that there will need to be pay freezes outside of things like healthcare. I think that most people will understand why given that most people aren’t using our rail system at the moment. Protecting jobs is frankly higher on my agenda than pay rises.”

Separately, Mr Shapps ruled out reviewing the case for HS2 despite fears that it will be years before passenger numbers recover to pre-pandemic levels.

“On a national level it would be wrong to reverse this project at this stage. And certainly to use coronavirus as the reason to do that would definitely be the wrong approach,” he said.