JTF reveals joint UK and French government bailout for Eurostar discussed

Ministers were pressed to step in to offer Eurostar a joint bailout with the French government to maintain shutdown services at Ashford International and Ebbsfleet station, he revealed.

Railways Minister Chris Heaton-Harris held a meeting with company officials and other industry leaders a year ago, where the possibility was discussed.

Minister of Railways Chris Heaton-Harris MP has been invited to speak. Photo: Gov.uk

He intervened following the announcement of the suspension of services stopping at the two stations in Kent due to the Covid-19 pandemic which had seen the number of passengers drop.

Details of the meeting were released following an Freedom of Information request made by KentOnline.

A roundtable was held last October in the presence of Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris and Dartford MP Gareth Johnson, alongside Eurostar Chief Strategy Officer Gareth Williams and Dyan Crowther, Managing Director of High Speed One.

The official ‘read aloud’ note from the meeting states that the Minister was informed that while Eurostar was owned by the French it was’ 100% UK incorporated and a major asset to the UK it is therefore necessary to act jointly ”.

He notes that Mr Johnson said the withdrawal from services was “depressing but not surprising” and “it must be the finance ministers who need to meet on both sides of the Channel”.

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson was at the meeting with government and <a class=rail officials. Image: Parliament Television” data-root=”/_media/img/” data-path=”6M52PJD388ZT19UBT8R2.jpg” data-ar=”1.51″/>
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson was at the meeting with government and rail officials. Image: Parliament Television

The minutes suggest the minister appeared open to the idea of ​​help, citing him as saying “we will continue to work with everyone to do as much as possible” and asking what the levels of “trade sensitivities” were.

These are the minister’s only comments that have been disclosed along with four other redacted.

The DfT said putting the Minister of Railways’ other comments in the public domain could harm the business interests of DfT, Eurostar itself and High Speed ​​One and applied a public interest exemption. to hold them back.

He also invoked an exemption allowing him to block disclosure on the grounds that the information concerned the formulation of the policy.

In its response to our request, the DFT agreed that “disclosure would give members of the public assurance that the government is aware and engaged with the issues businesses are facing as a result of the Covid pandemic.”

Eurostar trains will not stop at Ebbsfleet or Ashford until 2023 after services are cut due to pandemic
Eurostar trains will not stop at Ebbsfleet or Ashford until 2023 after services are cut due to pandemic

At the same time, he argued that if the government were to release commercially sensitive information, it would undermine the confidence of future suppliers who might fear that details of their contracts would be disclosed.

The DfT also withheld two letters from the company on the issue of services stopping at either of Kent’s two stations, saying they were provided in confidence and posting them would violate this. confidence.

As it happens, Eurostar has secured a £ 250million bailout from private investors but, despite resuming services from St Pancras, has indicated that neither Ashford nor Ebbsfleet will be used until 2023.

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