Channel Tunnel Spat Risks Severing Vital U.K.-France Link

The Channel Tunnel rail link that moves more than 20 million people between England and France each year could see “significant disruption” if a tussle over its jurisdiction isn’t resolved by Dec. 31, according to a report by U.K. lawmakers.

Members of the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons sought answers from the U.K. government, which earlier rejected a French proposal that safety and interoperability remain governed by European Union laws. With little more than three months before its exit transition from the bloc is completed, Britain hasn’t put forward an alternative plan, according to a report published Wednesday by the committee.

Channel Tunnel Spat Risks Severing Vital U.K.-France Link

“Without an agreement on the future safety framework applicable to the Fixed Link, there is a danger of legal and practical uncertainty,” the committee said. “As joint U.K.-French infrastructure, a clear resolution is necessary; otherwise significant disruption is a real possibility.”

The U.K. Department for Transport declined to comment. The French ecology and transport ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The government is seeking a bilateral agreement with France, though it rejects any proposal that would submit U.K. territory to EU jurisdiction, according to an official familiar with the its position. If no deal is reached, the U.K. will implement contingency plans to keep the tunnel operating, the person said.

The railway tunnel running between Calais, France, and Folkestone, England, is the only land connection between the U.K. and continental Europe. Each country controls about half of the 50-kilometer twin-rail route. It’s operated by Paris-based Getlink SE, which in 2019 transported about 1.6 million trucks on the Le Shuttle service that competes with ferry crossings. The tunnel also carries the passenger services operated by Eurostar International Ltd.

London-based Eurostar, which is controlled by French state railway SNCF, has put in place the necessary licenses and certifications with EU and national regulators “to ensure we can continue to operate even in the face of a no-deal,” it said in an email. Getlink declined to comment.

Getlink shares declined as much as 1.8%. They were down 1.5% at 9:40 a.m. in Paris.

Under the French proposal, European courts would weigh in on disputes over safety and other matters, as they do under the current transition agreement that runs through year-end.

In the committee’s report, it said that France would have to seek the consent of the European Commission if sought a deal with the U.K. that strayed from the EU guidelines. France would also be able to act unilaterally to regain control of its section of the tunnel in an emergency or under certain failures of compliance.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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