Eurostar row as Marine Le Pens discontent with UKs rail privatisation plans laid bare

Eurostar ‘cannot be allowed to collapse’ says Irish MEP

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Earlier this year, Eurostar confirmed it had secured a financial support package that will pave the way for its recovery. The £250million refinancing package largely consists of additional equity and loans from a syndicate of banks guaranteed by the shareholders, including the French state railway group SNCF, Patina Rail LLP, the Belgian state train operator SNCB, and funds managed by the infrastructure team of Federated Hermes. The support will enable Eurostar to continue to operate and meet its financial obligations in the short-to-medium term.

Passenger numbers on the cross-Channel train service – which reaches the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands – have dropped to just one percent of pre-pandemic levels, prompting fears for the future of the transport provider.

Eurostar appealed to the UK Government for financial support in January after the pandemic left the company “fighting for survival”.

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen was asked whether France should have followed former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s lead in selling off the country’s stake so that French taxpayer wouldn’t have had to bail the UK out.

Ms Le Pen, who is gearing up for her third presidential bid next year, revealed she is “wary” of selling public goods and that she would not like to draw inspiration from Britain’s rail privatisation plans.

She said: “From experience, I am wary of selling public goods which have in recent years led to the selling of some of France’s crown jewels…

“This has always, of course, been practised in the name of ‘profitability’.

“We sold the highways, barracks, racetracks, the flagships of our defence industry, soon our biggest airports and, why not tomorrow, the Palace of Versailles.”

Ms Le Pen added: “To be honest, I can draw inspiration from many good things about your country, but not necessarily from its rail privatisation plans.”

The UK Government announced it was selling its 40 percent stake in the cross-Channel train operator Eurostar to an Anglo-Canadian consortium for £757.1m in 2015.

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Under the deal, Patina Rail LLP acquired the UK Treasury’s entire share of the high-speed rail service.

The French and Belgian national railways continue to own the rest.

The intention to sell was first set out in 2013, in the Autumn Statement and National Infrastructure Plan.

Former Chancellor George Osborne said the stake had fetched “far more than people expected we’d be able to sell it for”.

He added: “This is a very good deal – it means we can cut the national debt, it means we can invest in our national infrastructure and its fantastic value for British taxpayers.

“It’s all part of our long-term plan to secure Britain’s future.”

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The boss of Eurostar is now calling for an airline tax to subsidise rail services to the continent in a move that could help Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet his climate change commitments.

Jacques Damas urged the Prime Minister to encourage more Britons to use Eurostar instead of flying to northern Europe.

He said: “If the UK Government wants to commit to its objective for carbon emissions reduction … then they have to activate the right levers.

“This high speed [railway] in the world has a lot of remaining capacity.”

French President Emmanuel Macron is cracking down on domestic flights with a ban on services that can be travelled by direct train in less than two-and-a-half hours.

Mr Damas added: “If you do not want to ban, but give an incentive, it is very easy. If you just work with the taxation system. If you take just £1. Take £1 more in taxing fuel for aircraft, and take that £1 as a reduction in access charges on the railway.”

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