The government has awarded an £800,000 contract to a law firm for advice in case Eurotunnel takes legal action over the impact of Brexit.
Lawyers at Slaughter and May will provide support to the Department for Transport (DfT) in the “highly likely” event that Eurotunnel pursues litigation.
In January, Eurotunnel, part of the Getlink group, accused the Government of “distortionary and anti-competitive” behaviour over the award of contracts worth more than £100 million to provide additional cross-Channel capacity in the case of a no-deal Brexit.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling defended giving a contract worth almost £14 million to Seaborne Freight – a firm with no ships.
Getlink chief executive Jacques Gounon wrote to Mr Grayling to voice “serious concern” about the decision to award contracts to three ferry companies.
Mr Gounon said Getlink “reserve all our rights to challenge such a measure both in the UK and France”.
He argued that Eurotunnel’s Le Shuttle service was the “most efficient way” to supply vital goods to the UK and would remain so even if new border procedures were introduced after Brexit.
A description of the contract awarded to Slaughter and May on a government website says it is “to obtain an external legal resource to provide advice and assistance to DfT on the Cross-Channel Rail Services”.
But the BBC said the wording had been changed and had previously said that Getlink had “expressed concern that their business may be disturbed or interfered with… and that this will in turn hit their profits”.
It added: “It is highly likely that they would seek to protect their business and profits through litigation against the department.”
A spokesman for the DfT said the Government routinely sought legal advice.
He added: “This multi-annual contract is to provide advice on a wide range of areas relating to the Channel Tunnel and EU exit.”
Seaborne aims to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate in Kent to the Belgian port of Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer.
Eurotunnel declined to comment.