Back off, EU! Britain blocks Channel Tunnel power grab as eurocrats excluded from talks

Eurostar ‘cannot be allowed to collapse’ says Irish MEP

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Brussels has seen its role in the wrangling over the rail link between Britain and France reduced after a recommendation from senior MPs. Rachel Maclean, the minister responsible for the Channel Tunnel, has reported “considerable progress” in talks between the Government and French officials. She said the discussions are in line with recommendations made by the Commons European Scrutiny Committee.

The MPs, headed up by veteran Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash, insisted the talks should be between London and Paris and not with the EU.

As a result of the instruction, Downing Street has spurned attempts by the European Commission to ensure the cross-Channel tunnel is managed under EU law.

The Government was said to be sticking to its “red lines”, which include no future alignment to Brussels rules and no oversight by the European Court of Justice.

In a written response to the committee, Ms Maclean said: “I very much share the Committee’s views on the importance of the Channel Tunnel, noting the significant social and economic benefits it brings to the UK and the vital role it plays in our cross-border trade with mainland Europe and the rest of the world.

“That is why the Government is committed to its future success. A key part of that is negotiating bilateral agreements at pace with France which will provide for the long-term continued smooth operation of Channel Tunnel operations, in a manner fully consistent with the UK’s status as an independent, sovereign nation.”

Eurocrats had hoped to muscle in on the talks over Channel Tunnel safety issues in a hope of locking Britain to Brussels regulations.

Issues include licences for train drivers, safety certificates and operator licences.

A number of bilateral deals could be reached in the coming weeks with France over the management of the Channel Tunnel.

The cross-Channel rail link has been in the news a great deal as a result of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

The running of the Chunnel for areas like safety standards and driver qualifications is currently governed by a 1986 Anglo-French treaty.

Now we’ve left the bloc, the agreement has become null and void.

Without a replacement, the British and French stretches would fall under separate regimes.

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If an agreement isn’t reached soon, train drivers could need two separate sets of qualifications to operate on the route.

Brussels gave Paris permission to negotiate a new treaty with the UK under strict conditions that it would replicate the status quo.

A leaked negotiating document, which surfaced last summer, showed the EU wanted to keep control of “the whole infrastructure including in its section under the jurisdiction of the UK”.

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But Downing Street has seemingly rejected any attempts to keep the rail link “bound” by ECJ decisions for disputes covering EU rules.

And more recently, Eurostar, which operates the main passenger service, last week secured a £250 million bailout from its shareholders, including the French government.

The UK refused to join the rescue attempts as the firm teetered on the brink of collapse because of a dramatic slump in passenger traffic.

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