The UK has rejected EU proposals for how the tunnel should be run next year, but has failed to provide clear alternatives, says a report by the House of Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee.
The European Commission has proposed that France should be empowered to negotiate an amendment to the Canterbury Treaty that governs the tunnel with the UK, with a view that an existing intergovernmental safety authority should remain in place and should continue to apply EU rules on safety and operational matters.
The risk otherwise is that UK laws and national safety regulators would govern half of the tunnel and EU ones the other half, causing chaos. Legal experts have said it could affect such diverse issues as what qualifications are acceptable for train drivers in each half and what standards are applied for signalling, radio systems, ventilation etc.
The commission also proposes that an existing dispute arbitration mechanism should remain in place, with referral to the European Court of Justice for any matters related to EU law.
Earlier this month the Council of the EU backed the plan to give France a mandate to negotiate with the UK, but the details of the EU proposals are yet to be finally signed off by the council or voted through by the European Parliament.
However the MPs’ report states that British Transport Minister Rachel Maclean has already rejected the EU’s ideas, making it “clear that the proposals are not consistent with the Government’s objectives for the UK as an independent and sovereign nation outside the EU”.
The ECJ must have no jurisdiction over UK territory, the minister has said – referring to the British half of the tunnel – and the UK rejects alignment with EU laws.
At the same time, the report says, “the minister is keen to stress the importance of the [Channel Tunnel] to the UK and that its continued smooth operation on the basis of a unified safety regime is its number one priority… however the minister is less forthcoming with alternative proposals.”
'Significant disruption' is 'real possibility'
The report states: “As a joint UK-French infrastructure a clear resolution is necessary, otherwise significant disruption is a real possibility”.
It adds that at stake is “the future operation of the fixed link [ie. Channel Tunnel] – whether trains will continue to run between the UK and France after December 31”.
The MPs have written to the minister asking for details of what the UK proposes for the tunnel’s safety regime from January 1, and to keep them updated as to any talks with France.
However with just over three months to go before the end of the transition period, formal negotiations are yet to start, the Council of the EU confirmed to The Connexion today.