Channel Tunnel breakthrough miner now a euroskeptic

In this file photograph taken on May 6, 1994, a Eurostar Channel tunnel train — on its Royal Inaugural Journey to Paris with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh onboard — pulls out of the international terminal at Waterloo Station in London. (AFP file photo)
Updated 04 May 2019

Channel Tunnel breakthrough miner now a euroskeptic

  • The Channel Tunnel has come to symbolize the UK’s integration with the continent as a member of the European Union
  • But the tunnel's poster boy for the continental connection is now a Brexit supporter

DOVER, UK: A quarter-century after the Channel Tunnel opened, the British miner who punched through to the French side and was a poster boy for the continental connection is now a Brexit supporter.
In an interview ahead of Monday’s 25th anniversary, Graham Fagg said he still marvels at one of humankind’s “greatest achievements” but admitted he has soured on closer relations with mainland Europe.
“I worked on the Channel Tunnel and did the breakthrough, but I actually voted for Brexit,” the 70-year-old told AFP. “I don’t see that as incompatible.”
The retiree made history in December 1990, greeting French counterpart Philippe Cozette about 100 meters under the sea after they connected their respective sides of the tunnel.
Less than four years later, on May 6, 1994, Queen Elizabeth II and French president Francois Mitterrand cut the ribbon on the new rail link.
It has since welcomed 430 million passengers and 86 million vehicles and, for some Britons, come to symbolize the country’s integration with the continent as a member of the European Union.
Fagg said he supported joining the European Economic Community — the forerunner to the EU — in a 1975 referendum, but had not envisaged it would become a political union.
“We voted for a trade deal,” he explained. “I can’t remember anybody ever saying to me, ‘we’re going to turn it into a federal Europe. We’re going to set all the rules and you’ve got to obey them’.”
A lifelong resident of the southeast English port town Dover, where 62 percent of people backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, Fagg insisted he wants close future ties with Europe.
The grandfather-of-four has forged an enduring friendship with Cozette, visiting the Frenchman’s home near Calais on several occasions.
“I don’t really speak English and he doesn’t speak French at all, but still we understand each other,” Cozette told AFP this week.
The 66-year-old argued centuries of increasing cross-Channel cooperation could survive Brexit.
“I don’t think it will drive the English and French apart,” he said.
In footage of their historic first meeting, the pair clasp hands through a small gap in the tunnel to cheers from workers and officials looking on, before posing for pictures.
Fagg remembered “it was all a little bit overwhelming” and being most concerned about not hitting Cozette with his digging tool before they had broken through.
After stepping into the French side, the Englishman was greeted by an array of cameras and remembered being impressed by the typically Gallic fare on offer to celebrate the occasion.
“They had champagne, wine, food,” he said. “On our side we had just tea, coffee and water — and maybe a sandwich if you were lucky!“

20 years with Eurotunnel
Fagg dedicated five years of his life to the tunnel’s construction between 1986 and 1991 and then worked in maintenance for Eurotunnel for nearly 15 years from the early 2000s.
He recalled a tough working environment among the heavy-drinking British miners, who were in a race to reach the middle of the tunnel before their French counterparts and were paid on a bonus scheme.
“The faster we went, the more money we got,” he said.
The moment that would ultimately become a recurrent landmark in Fagg’s life was purely down to chance, with his name chosen randomly by bosses.
“I thought I was going up to the office to get told off about something, but in actual fact they said ‘tomorrow you’re doing the breakthrough’,” he added.
“I was a bit surprised because it was my day off and I had other plans.”

Longest undersea tunnel
One of the biggest engineering projects ever undertaken in Europe, building the tunnel involved more than 12,000 workers.
Today, it remains the longest undersea tunnel in the world at nearly 38 kilometers (24 miles) and has been named one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Fagg is most pleased that after years of financial problems it is now a viable business.
“It’s a great engineering feat,” he said. “It’s good that people enjoy it.”
Fagg, who has been married nearly 50 years, survived a prostate cancer diagnosis six years ago which led to his retirement.
He admitted feeling nostalgic Wednesday revisiting the spot where tunnelling first started, stopping at a plaque overlooking the Channel honoring the 10 workers who died during the project.
“It was a historical moment,” he recollected of his famous handshake.
“The whole project was a historical moment. It involved five years of my life, so it’s going to remain with you.”


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 16 September 2019

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 


It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.