Eurostar bailout: UK taxpayers face eye-watering £80m bill as Macron demands more cash | UK | News (Reports)

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Both UK and French transport officials are currently locked in talks to rescue the struggling rail operator, which has seen a 95 percent fall in passenger numbers since the Covid pandemic broke out. But the UK could be forced to cough up millions if a deal cannot be agreed as a legal arrangement between the owner HSI and its operators currently allows for a shortfall of up to £10million to be transferred to Government-funded operator Southeastern every six months between now and 2025. But Commons Transport Select Committee chairman and Tory MP Huw Merriman urged the UK and French governments to make a joint commitment to support Eurostar instead.

He said last week that “we simply cannot afford to lose Eurostar” as it is “unique in offering an environmentally friendly, direct connection to mainland Europe”.

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The Government sold its stake to private firms for £757million in 2015.

The French state, which the majority owner of Eurostar alongside Belgium and two pension funds, has already stumped up €200million (£178million) of funding.

This has resulted in politicians in Paris demanding that the UK steps up to play its part too.

An alternative option being weighed up could be to allow another operator, such as Franco-Belgian state operator Thalys, to replace Eurostar.

But Conservative MP Paul Maynard, a former transport minister, said it would be a “real shame” to lose Eurostar.

He said: “Eurostar is a great rail success story, opening Britain to a wider Europe, and giving overseas tourists better access to London and beyond.

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“It would be a shame to lose that because of technicalities around differential access charges on either side of the Channel.

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“The unfortunate reality is that the Government faces the prospect of a potential charge for tens of millions of pounds to cover the damage the pandemic has inflicted on international train travel.

“There is a strong case to be made for injecting a relatively modest sum now to preserve a service that was hugely popular before Covid struck, efficient and environmentally-friendly.”

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Lord Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Secretary under David Cameron, added an agreement needed to be made to avoid the demise of Eurostar.

He said: “Eurostar is an important link between the UK and the Continent, and plays a significant role in supporting inbound tourism.

“I would urge governments both sides of the English Channel to come to an agreement to support Eurostar to avoid services coming to an end.”

Eurostar has not commented on the potential bailout plans but warned the “current situation is very serious”.

The operator said last week: “Without additional funding from the Government, there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar as the current situation is very serious.”

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