Twenty-five years ago the first train made its way through the Channel Tunnel, crowning a singularly impressive achievement both in terms of civil engineering and international cooperation.
I remember even further back, watching the pictures on the BBC when the two sides broke through during the tunnelling process. The French accorded the event due ceremony, toasting with champagne. The Brits were more phlegmatic, pouring cups of tea. Well done, chaps, we all worked jolly hard, now let’s have a quick cuppa and get on with the next step.
It’s we who have lost something along with way. Look at where we stand now. Eurotunnel is in the process of suing the British government over the decision, taken with the malevolent incompetence that has become the hallmark of Theresa May’s administration, to shut it out of bidding for no-deal Brexit ferry contracts.
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, or the several million tonnes of the rock through which the Chunnelers tunnelled through, transport secretary Chris Grayling, who richly deserves his nickname “failing Grayling”, ended up handing a £13.8m contract to a ferry company that didn’t have any ferries and copied its terms and conditions from a pizza delivery business.
When he got caught with his pants down (again), he sought to bluster and blame opponents of Brexit for his self-inflicted misfortunes instead of resigning and apologising, as anyone with even the shakiest understanding of honour and duty would have done.
There is nothing phlegmatic about this man. There’s actually nothing very British about him. Compare the reaction of the people on the British side back then with his behaviour standing on a platform bawling “we want our country back” with Nigel Farage during the EU referendum. It’s on YouTube if you can bear it, but you’ll need a bucket handy.
There could hardly be a starker contrast. These people who talk about believing in Britain just aren’t very British, certainly not as we used to understand it.
The Chunnel, as it became known, cost £4.68bn, more than £12bn in today’s money. It was 80 per cent over budget, as these things always are, and the construction process was a bumpy one. But again, that’s par for the course.
Take a ride on it while you can, then take a Ryanair flight back from Paris and tell me the project wasn’t worth it.
Would anyone partner with Britain and this government for a project like that today?
I suppose if there was enough money in it. People will do all sorts of crazy things for money.
But I’d imagine they’d first want some guarantees written in blood.
Grayling, his boss Theresa May and their crew of thinly veiled crypto-fascists treat former friends, allies and partners with snarls and insults and shaken fists.
Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, and incredibly still one of the favourites to become the next prime minister of this country, once said: “F*** business.” So yes, you’d want some pretty strong assurances before agreeing to build anything more complicated than a playpen for that bunch. They could really do with one, and some time under the watchful eye of Supernanny while they’re in it given the way they’ve been carrying on.
Even then you’d need a stiff drink before signing, and putting down real money. It wouldn’t be champagne. It’d be more like a treble whisky, after which you’d want your head examining.
These are not reliable people to be in business with. Just ask British business, which has been tearing its hair out, or Britain’s more sensible unions. They’ve been doing the same.
Or just ask Eurotunnel.
Grayling has made much of the fact that no actual money was ferried to Seaborne, but there’s plenty of it now steaming towards the government’s lawyers. If it reaches court we should at least get some value from the public salary claimed by Grayling. It promises to be quite entertaining.
If there is any real justice, he will need some lawyers of his own before too long. If he were a doctor, or an architect, or a civil engineer, he’d be in jail by now, given what happens when the members of those professions commit gross negligence.
In the meantime, we really need to find a way of taking our country back from people like him and his friends.