Published: 05:00, 15 January 2022
A candidate standing in this year's French parliamentary elections has called on Eurostar to restore direct services from Kent at the earliest opportunity.
Artus Galiay, who is running in June's elections to the National Assembly for the centre-right Les Républicains, says the return of timetabled trains to and from Ashford and Ebbsfleet is crucial for economic recovery on both sides of the Channel.
The 33-year-old former central banker, who studied in London and divides his time between the UK and France, is due to visit Ashford today to meet with members of the French diaspora who will help decide if he wins a seat in the Paris legislature.
Mr Galiay, who is standing to represent the UK as part of the Third constituency for French residents overseas, said: "If we rewind back to March 2020, at that point Eurostar stopped all services at Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International.
"That was perfectly understandable because traffic had gone down 95%, there was a lockdown, that situation was really dramatic and therefore understandable.
"The problem now is that, two years after, economies are up and running, both in the UK and in France, despite Covid. So in my view it is really time to resume these services as soon as possible.
"Eurostar say that they will not resume services until 2023 at the earliest. The problem is that the longer you keep them closed, the more you kill that business model in the long term because people will simply stop relying on them.
"So some French people may decide that they will no longer set up in Kent if there are no Eurostar services, and everyone in Kent is affected. It makes no sense geographically speaking for people in Kent to have to go back to London to catch a train to go to Europe."
In September, Eurostar confirmed its timetable will not include stops at Ashford or Ebbsfleet until 2023 at the earliest. The company, whose majority shareholder is the French state railway operator SNCF, has confirmed that position remains unchanged.
"This is bad news for Kent and bad news for Ashford," borough council deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett said in the autumn. "Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council will need to move at pace to re-instate the services as soon as possible."
A spokesman for Eurostar, whose sole UK station is now London St Pancras, said the firm would review its decision to by-pass Kent stations towards the end of 2022.
Mr Galiay called for other operators to enter the cross-Channel rail market, arguing competition would see travellers better served.