Eurotunnel boss confident of averting post-Brexit border chaos

CALAIS, France, Dec 31 (Reuters) - The chief executive of Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel linking Britain and continental Europe, on Thursday downplayed the risk of border chaos hours before Britain begins life outside the world’s largest trading bloc.

When Britain casts off from the European Union, firms that drive nearly $1 trillion in annual trade will have to navigate new rules and red tape to do business across the newly restored hard border.

A narrow trade deal was only reached a week before a Dec. 31 deadline.

“For sure, with such a change, and we only got the agreement a few days ago, there will be some adjustments over the next days and weeks,” CEO Yann Leriche told Reuters at the Eurotunnel Calais terminal. “It won’t be chaotic.”

Getlink had invested 47 million euros in infrastructure to deal with new customs formalities required from 2300 GMT on Thursday, Leriche said.

Britain’s exit from the EU’s single market comes as Getlink’s earnings reel from the coronavirus pandemic. It has run fewer freight trains as Europe’s economies suffer unprecedented peacetime slumps and travel restrictions devastate passenger numbers.

Getlink cut its 2020 earnings projections for a second time this year in October and Leriche said the outlook remained too blurred to know when business might return to pre-pandemic levels.

“The vaccine is coming. At the same time, we’re speaking of a third wave. So all that means there are questions without clear answers,” Leriche said.

He said Getlink was working closely with its main customer, Eurostar, to enable a quick rebound in the fortunes of the high-speed trains linking London with Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other European cities.

Eurostar said in November that it was “fighting for its survival”, and is now operating as few as three trains a day between Paris and London compared with at least 17 before the crisis. Eurostar pays Getlink a fixed fee as well as about 17 euros for every Eurostar passenger carried through the tunnel.

“Eurostar will survive and might be stronger than ever as soon as we’re out of this COVID crisis,” Leriche said.

Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Giles Elgood