Eurostar is now in emergency talks with lenders to avoid a financial collapse this summer, when a £400million debt pile is due for repayment with Europe still embroiled in the coronavirus crisis. The Channel Tunnel operator is in advanced discussions with a group of banks, including UK taxpayer-backed NatWest, to secure lifeline funding. Insiders said the company’s attention had turned to restructuring its loans, following weeks of lobbying ministers on both sides of the Channel for a bailout that is yet to yield a deal. There is an option for Eurostar to extend the June deadline for repayment for another 12 months, however this would mean the company would have to abide by strict financial rules.
France and the UK have clashed over the situation, as politicians in Paris urge the UK to help.
French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in January: “We are working with the UK on mechanisms for aid that are proportionally pro rata to the implications of each in Eurostar.
“The government will back Eurostar to maintain this strategic link between our two countries.”
A spokesman for Eurostar said at the time: “Without additional funding from the government, there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar as the current situation is very serious.”
Huw Merriman, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, also called on ministers in the UK to come up with a solution for Eurostar.
He warned that Britain cannot afford to lose the rail service.
Mr Merriman continued: “Services have been stripped back to a bare minimum. It needs a joint, bespoke UK-French solution to help it through this crisis.
“Like airlines, quarantine and travel restrictions have blighted Eurostar’s access to its markets during the pandemic.
“Unlike airlines, Eurostar has been shut out from government loans that have offered a lifeline.”
Professor Yves Crozet of the University of Lyon also told the transport select committee that Paris and London are poised for an “arm-wrestle”.
READ MORE: Eurostar fury as UK constructors clashed with French
The UK has so far refused to contribute to a bailout, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying the company “isn’t ours to rescue”.
He added: “It’s primarily a French lead, but we’ll be as helpful as possible.
“It’s not our company to rescue – it’s majority owned by the French state.
“We’re very, very keen for the Eurostar to survive, and we’ll wait to see the plan [from state rail firm SNCF].”