The French government is being urged to ensure a continuing free-flow of passengers across the Channel after Brexit.

The call came from the boss of Brittany Ferries as the company reported a marginal rise in annual carryings of 1.4%  last year to 2.6 million passengers, resulting in a profit of €8 million on a total turnover of €442 million.

The results come despite the pound being worth around 15% less than it was two years ago.

“That has proved challenging for a company whose income is generated in pounds sterling, with a cost-base in euros,” the ferry firm said.

“Further challenges have come from on-going Brexit uncertainty and the effect this is having on summer 2019 bookings.”

Brittany Ferries used its 2018 results to call on the government in France to take urgent steps to ensure British holidaymakers and freight move freely. The regions of north west France depend upon the company as a significant wealth generator.

Despite being a French company, its success is largely built on British customers. In total, 85% of passengers come from the UK

Concerns in France come as planning to minimise traffic queues on the UK side intensifies, including at Brittany Ferries’ UK hub at Portsmouth.

Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries, said: “We made a profit in 2018 thanks to a combination of careful management and structural change.

“Our positive results come despite the pound being worth significantly less than it was two years ago and as Brexit uncertainty weakens demand for trips to France and Spain this summer.

“We are now preparing for the years ahead. We have invested in three new ships and have made a clear commitment to the regions we serve.

“The challenge now is one for the French government in particular. All steps must be taken to ensure we have the right frameworks in place in Brittany and Normandy post-Brexit to keep goods flowing freely and to ensure our British passengers have the confidence to sail this summer and in the years to come.”

Brittany Ferries operates 11 routes linking the UK, France, Spain and Ireland with 12 ships, four of which are chartered. It operates services from Portsmouth to four destinations in France and two in northern Spain. From Poole it sails to Cherbourg and operates a freight-only service to Bilbao.

More than half a billion euros were spent by Brittany Ferries’ customers visiting France last year, according to the company. There were 854,000 unique visitors, staying 9.2 million bed-nights.

Brittany, Normandy and the Loire were the biggest regional winners. Brittany hosted 295,000 visitors generating €150 million in wealth for the region. Normandy welcomed 219,000 guests who spent €78 million; the Loire received 143,000 visitors who spent €78 million, thanks to British customers.

Three new ferries have been ordered post-Brexit, following an investment of €450 million. Two of these ships will be powered by liquefied natural gas, a fuel that the company says reduces sulphur and particulate emissions to almost zero and cuts average carbon dioxide output by around 20%.

New ship Honfleur will be the first ferry on the English Channel to be powered by LNG when it enters service at the end of the year.