The government has been accused of engaging in ‘distortionary and anti-competitive’ behaviour by Eurotunnel bosses after awarding contracts worth more than £100 million to provide additional cross-Channel capacity in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.
Jacques Gounon, chief executive of the train operator’s parent company Getlink, wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling to voice ‘serious concern’ about his decision to hand the work to three ferry companies.
In an apparent indication that the company was considering legal action over the move, Mr Gounon said Getlink ‘reserve all our rights to challenge such a measure both in the UK and France’.
Grayling has already come under fire for the award of one of the contracts – designed to ease the pressure on Dover if a no-deal Brexit causes delays – to a company with no ships which hopes to open a new route from Ramsgate to Ostend.
The boss of the port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, branded the move ‘disrespectful’, insisting his operations will cope with Brexit whatever changes it brings.
In his letter to Grayling, dated January 2 and obtained by the Financial Times, Mr Gounon said Eurotunnel’s Le Shuttle service was the ‘most efficient way’ to supply vital goods to the UK and would remain so even if new border procedures were introduced after Brexit.
He said Eurotunnel was ready to take on extra work to smooth the flow of traffic across the Channel if it was threatened by a lack of public officials.
The company is working on the option of running additional freight trains and developing a rail terminal for unaccompanied trailers in Folkestone, he said.
Mr Gounon wrote: ‘In any eventuality, Eurotunnel remains prepared to deliver additional capacity under equivalent contracts to those you have signed with the ferry operators.
‘I would ask you please to confirm that you are open to replicating the same kind of contracts with us.’
Best of Britain campaigner and Lib-Dem MP Layla Moran also criticised the transport secretary.
Shesaid: ‘Trust Grayling to miss an obvious solution. Instead of investing in companies who have been crossing for decades he poured money into a company that didn’t even have any ferries. I wouldn’t trust him to organise a two ticket raffle, let alone one of the most logistically difficult challenges our islands have faced in a generation.
‘The only consolation is that, with Parliament taking back control of the Brexit debate and likely to rule out no deal, even if Grayling does botch this all up it’s unlikely to be needed. Thank goodness.’
A Getlink spokesman said the company would make no further comment.
While a spokesman for the Department for Transport defended the move, adding : ‘The government has invested heavily to ensure disruption at our ports is minimised in a no-deal scenario, while maximising flows through Eurotunnel and Dover continues to be our highest priority.
‘The contracts agreed with ferry companies are entirely compliant with UK law and represent just one element of our sensible contingency work.’
SNP MEP Alyn Smith has since written to the European Commission to call for an investigation into the procurement process for the additional cross-Channel capacity.
‘I think there are real questions for the UK Government to answer here,’ Mr Smith told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.
‘I’m concerned about what comes next in terms of the bigger contracts for warehousing of food supplies or drug supplies.
‘If the attitude of the UK Government now is to throw public money willy-nilly at a problem of their own making, there’s a duty on those of us in public service to make sure that we get value for public money and that the relevant law is properly respected. I don’t believe it has been in this case.’