The Channel Tunnel operator has threatened to sue the Government for hundreds of millions of pounds if they are forced to shut down their services at night due to the Calais migrant crisis.
In an angry letter, Eurotunnel president Jacque Gounon accused British ministers of “sowing panic among customers and investors” after The Telegraph revealed closure plans have been discussed at the Government’s emergency Cobra meetings.
Most freight services to and from the Continent take place at night when, simultaneously, would-be illegal immigrants launch the largest number of assaults on security measures at the French terminal in a bid to reach Britain.
Photo: Will Wintercross/The Telegraph
Mr Gounon called for urgent clarification on the Government’s plans in his letter, addressed to the head of the British delegation at the Anglo-French organisation which manages the Chunnel concession held by his company.
In the letter, seen by The Telegraph, Mr Gounon said: “Under the concession agreement Eurotunnel would be obliged to claim for losses which we estimate could easily attain the level of circa £200 million per year.
“Any significant reduction in overnight services through the Channel Tunnel would have a grave impact not only on the concession holder but also on the UK economy.
“We believe it would be far better for resources to be focused on resolving the ‘Calais crisis’ rather than sowing panic amongst customers and investors and, ultimately, damaging the economy.”
The Telegraph revealed earlier this week how ministers had taken legal advice on what Whitehall sources described as the “nuclear option” of shutting the tunnel after dark.
No plans have yet been drawn up to enforce a closure but it was understood the measures could be put back on the table if the situation deteriorates in Calais, where up to 5,000 migrants mainly from west Africa are living in makeshift camps.
Mr Gounon’s letter went on: “The briefing that has led to this article can only be described as irresponsible and the impact of the article may be profound.
“We have been receiving calls all morning from customers concerned by the impact of such a move on their businesses and asking what level of compensation would be payable by the government for their consequent losses and those of their final customers.”
John Keefe, a Eurotunnel spokesman, said freight customers including car manufacturer, food manufacturers and parcel couriers would be able to claim compensation from the British Government under competition rules if the Tunnel were closed.
“Closing the Channel Tunnel overnight would be counter-productive,” he said.
“Trade flows overnight – that’s just how the logistics of business works – and such an action would disrupt industry across the UK and across Europe.
“Our customers will be able to claim compensation against the Government in addition to the £200 million we estimate our annual losses would be in the light of such a step.
“There would be far-reaching consequences and somebody has to think this through.
“It just does not hold water.”