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Post-transition plans for Channel Tunnel safety raise business continuity concerns

7 October 2020

In its latest report, the European Scrutiny Committee highlights outstanding questions over plans for Channel Tunnel safety procedures after the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

The Committee’s most recent report highlighted two EU legislative proposals on the future operation of the Channel Tunnel, and pointed out that despite the Government expressing its opposition, it had not yet tabled an alternative to the EU’s planned approach to ensuring the Tunnel continues to operate safely after the end of the transition period.

In today’s report, the Committee publishes the Government’s response, in which Minister Rachel Maclean MP details an alternative approach that, in the Government’s view, meets its red lines of no ‘dynamic alignment’ with EU law or oversight by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Report Conclusions

However, the Committee’s report concludes that the Government still has questions to answer on several key points:

Guaranteeing safety if the UK and France fail to agree

Responding to the Committee’s concerns over safety, the Minister argues that if no agreement is reached between the UK and France, the status quo will remain in place, thereby guaranteeing continued safe operation of the Tunnel.

However, the report concludes that “it is difficult to reconcile this position with the fact that the EU has published proposals concerning its future operation and the Minister has outlined the Government’s alternative approach...why are additional measures necessary?”

A move to more ad hoc arrangements

The current licencing and safety framework provides certainty and stability for businesses that rely on the Tunnel, setting out a clear oversight, development and enforcement regime.

The Committee’s report argues that any departure from this – which seems all but certain given the Government’s position – would necessitate contingency planning, with a greater need for robust business continuity procedures than the current ad hoc proposals imply.

It is presently unclear whether rules would be enforced in the same way on both sides of the Tunnel, and how and when they would change: a significant uncertainty that businesses would surely wish to avoid.

The Government’s ‘joint regulation approach’

The report points out that the Government’s response relies heavily on the maintenance of equivalent standards on both sides of the Tunnel, implying the ‘mirroring’ of future EU laws in UK domestic law.

The Committee’s report questions whether this is ‘dynamic alignment’ by other means, what would happen should the UK choose not to maintain equivalent standards in the future, and how the Government envisages Parliament being involved in the scrutiny of this process.

The Committee has written to the Minister requesting an urgent response. A copy of its letter is contained in the report, which is available online.

Further information

Image: Creative Commons