U.K. Offers to Help Save Eurostar But Says France Must Take Lead

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The U.K. said it’s ready to pitch in with state funding to help rescue Eurostar International Ltd. if France takes the lead on bailing out the Channel Tunnel rail business that’s been savaged by pandemic travel restrictions.

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said options including the Bank of England’s coronavirus loans and the U.K.’s export finance regime could be available to help London-based Eurostar, which operates a passenger-train link with the continent. But he insisted that the primary responsibility for the bailout remains with France, which controls the company via state railway SNCF.

“You’ve got 55% ownership by the French state so it’s not just any old shareholder, it’s a state-backed shareholder,” Shapps told the U.K. Parliament’s transport committee on Wednesday. “We will look to be as helpful as possible.”

The coronavirus crisis has wiped out 95% of Eurostar’s passenger traffic and SNCF has warned that there is a real risk to the business’s survival without government aid.

Eurostar spokeswoman Catherine Leonard declined to comment on Shapps’s remarks.

Talks have been ongoing between Shapps and his French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari for several weeks but the British are waiting for the French to come up with a rescue plan before committing support.

The BoE-managed Covid Corporate Financing Facility has been accessed by numerous firms including airline competitors to Eurostar such as EasyJet Plc.

The government’s U.K. Export Finance agency recently backed loans for British Airways and EasyJet, moves that were seen as a departure from previous support to overseas airlines to finance plane orders.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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