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Relations between Britain and France were never smooth sailing.
They faced particularly choppy waters last year when French President Emmanuel Macron took a tough stance on fishing rights during Brexit trade negotiations, and closed the border with Britain to prevent any coronavirus mutations found in Britain.
Awkwardly, the couple now find themselves teaming up to try and finalize a deal to save Eurostar, a cross-channel train operator that spends cash as the pandemic continues.
Could this be an opportunity to fix a broken relationship?
Britain and France often work together, especially on the complex issues surrounding security and border control.
But Eurostar carries a different kind of “political symbolism”, says Karine Varley, a lecturer in modern French history at Strathclyde University. He explained: “When the Channel Tunnel first opened, it was meant to open up new opportunities for British business in Europe.”
It is not in the domestic interest of both of them if the operator fails.
In the UK, there are commuters in southeast Tory-voting for thought.
“A solution to the Eurostar problem is also needed to secure the financial position of the HS1 high speed rail link between the Channel Tunnel and London. It is also used by regional high-speed rail services between cities in Kent and London, ”according to Roger Vickerman, professor of economics at the University of Kent.
A collapse could damage Macron’s pro-business credentials, a year before his first term in office ends, said Varley.
“It will also undermine Macron’s efforts to encourage passengers to switch from short-haul flights to traveling by train as part of his drive for the environment,” he added.
But Varley cautioned that in the short term, negotiations could worsen relations, as neither side saw the operators as their responsibility.
The British government sold its stake in the company in 2015, leaving French rail operator SNCF as the majority owner. While Huw Merriman, Tory chair of the UK’s transport committee, wanted a cross-Channel approach to help Eurostar, Varley said many of the hardline members of the British government would “refuse” to support the largely French-owned company.
Meanwhile, the French government insists that as a UK-based company, Paris’ involvement should be limited. In France, the Eurostar is seen as benefiting Britain because it allows it to more easily connect with Europe, says Varley.
But while France’s transport minister said last week that France would be “there” for the operator, its British counterpart has largely maintained a schtum on the subject.
Co-worker Tony Berkeley, European adviser to the Rail Freight Group, who works as an engineer in the Channel Tunnel, suggested that the post-Brexit political climate in Britain is making Britain less likely to soften up for its neighbors.
“Politically, why help with everything French? It was very naive and childish, but there it was. “
This insight comes from POLITICOThe Brexit Files Bulletin, the afternoon’s daily digest of the best coverage and analysis of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is available to Brexit Transition Pro subscribers. To request a trial, email [email protected].