By Hugo Gye
Last updated at 9:16 AM on 28th October 2011
Cut-price commuter trains are set to be allowed in the Channel Tunnel under new plans which will allow unemployed people from France to find work in England.
The scheme would enable residents of Calais to work in prosperous Kent by day and return home to France every evening.
Business leaders have welcomed the plans, but there are fears that an influx of French labour could put pressure on the job market in south-east England.
Representatives of the French region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais have met with Kentish authorities to discuss strengthening links between the two areas.
They believe that running cheap commuter trains under the Channel would increase the ability of the jobless in both countries to find work overseas.
But this would mostly benefit French workers, as unemployment there is much higher than it is in Kent.
The unemployment rate in Calais is now 23 per cent, compared to just 2.6 per cent in Ashford – but in the UK as a whole, joblessness is at a 15-year high.
Citizens of EU countries automatically have the right to work in any other EU country.
Immigration Minister Damian Green, MP for Ashford, said the plan was ‘not very sensible’.
He told the Daily Star: ‘If it worked both ways it would be fine. But do these people have the specific skills we need?’
But Jo James, from the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, argued that ‘anything that helps cross-border trade has to be good’.
She admitted that the scheme could impact on unemployment in Kent, but pointed out that Britain’s flexible business laws could encourage French companies to set up in Kent.
Although the plan is currently at a consultancy stage, France’s consul in London, Edouard Braine, is confident it will be successful.
He said: ‘You only have to look at a map to see how well these two regions could complement each other.’