Twentieth anniversary of the Channel Tunnel

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Building the Channel Tunnel took courage and determination; it has created a link that benefits Britain and France.

I was delighted to be invited this evening (2 April 2014). Because I believe the Channel Tunnel is quite rightly described as one of the 7 modern wonders of the world.

And I would like to thank Jacques Gounon for his kind words.

This gallery was founded on a bequest from Sir Richard Wallace.

In Britain and in France, Sir Richard is remembered as a great benefactor. Alongside this magnificent collection, he founded schools, parks and improved sanitation. When in 1870 Paris was in need and under siege, he personally gave 2.5 million francs to help the poor and starving. A contribution that was recognised with the Legion d’Honneur.

So there can be few places better to celebrate Franco-British co-operation than here this evening.

We are gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of another shining example of Franco-British partnership.

Like any anniversary it is a time for celebration and commemoration.

We should remember the courage of the men and women who built the Channel Tunnel. Today (2 April 2014), as we speed under the channel, the very simplicity means we can forget the scale of the construction challenge.

Working underground is often dangerous and risky. But building the longest tunnel ever under the ocean presented unprecedented challenges. But a little over 20 years ago, amid the rubble, the dust and the wet of a cavern 40 metres below the sea, Graham Fagg and Phillippe Cozette shook hands.

Creating a connection last seen in the Ice Age.

I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the determination shown that ensured the Channel Tunnel was finally built. There can be few projects that last over a century from conception to construction.

Many people said the tunnel simply wouldn’t be built. That it could never be a success. But leadership and grit overcame those obstacles.

Today (2 April 2014), the Channel Tunnel’s an absolutely indispensable link between Britain and Continental Europe. It carries over 18 million passengers and 1 million tons of freight each year and it’s become an engine for growth in both England and France.

New businesses have been attracted to places like Ashford and Folkestone, creating hundreds of jobs, and it has opened up the opportunity to build thousands of new homes in Ebbsfleet.

And in London, the Kings Cross area has been transformed. It used to be somewhere you wouldn’t go alone after dark. But the arrival of High Speed One was the trigger for £6 billion of private investment in the area - attracting companies like Google and BNP Paribas. That turned an industrial wasteland into one of Europe’s most successful urban regeneration areas.

To sum up, the Channel Tunnel is an engineering masterpiece. The fixed link created a giant causeway between Britain and the continent. A link that has carried more than 300 million people over the last 20 years. A connection that has increased opportunities for travel, created jobs, and helped grow both our economies. And it is thanks to the courage and determination of those involved that so many people are able to benefit today.

Looking ahead, the future is exciting. Demand for high speed rail is growing.

And I am sure the next 20 years will be even more successful than the last.

Thank you for listening.