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Sunday, March 7, 2021

UK transport secretary: Eurostar is ‘not our company to rescue’

Eurostar is not the U.K.’s company to rescue and France remains primarily responsible for bailing out the rail firm, Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said today.

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“We’ll look to be helpful but we don’t actually own this company,” Shapps told the U.K. parliament’s transport select committee.

Eurostar asked for help from the U.K. government after its passenger numbers fell 95 percent during the coronavirus pandemic, but the company’s ownership structure has made it a political problem.

The British government sold its shares in Eurostar in 2015. The operator is 55 percent owned by French state rail company SNCF, 40 percent owned by Canadian investment companies and 5 percent by Belgium’s national rail company. The company is headquartered in London.

France’s transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, said last month that the French state “will be there” for Eurostar, but has not yet announced concrete support. The French government has also suggested that as a Britain-based company, Paris’ involvement could be limited.

But while Britain could potentially offer some support through schemes like export finance, Shapps said today it is “not primarily for us to do that because we don’t own the thing,” and said the government would wait for France’s plan.

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He said that while he was concerned about the risk to British jobs — approximately 3,000, he said — the infrastructure is there for another company if Eurostar went under.

“The physical nature of the tunnel wouldn’t disappear, or the infrastructure. So there are well-established routes for these things and I can only repeat — it’s not our company to rescue,” he said.

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Mari Eccles

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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