LIVERPOOL has been warned it will be breaking the law if it launches its first ever turnaround cruise tomorrow in a row with Southampton over the unfair use of public funds.

Hampshire Euro MP Daniel Hannan said if Liverpool City Council accepts its first turnaround call without a fair competition ruling from EU chiefs it “will be breaking the law”.

And the Tory MEP said he expected a “strong response from both Government and the European Commission” if Liverpool presses ahead with plans to start and finish cruises at its £21m Pier Head terminal without European approval.

Liverpool is planning to start a 740-passenger Ocean Countess cruise at the terminal tomorrow after shipping minister Mike Penning said a one-off payment of £8.8m, or £12.6m over 15 years, would be enough for restrictions limiting its use for calling cruises to be lifted.

He said final removal of the restriction by the Government will depend on getting state aid clearance from the European Commission as £8.6m of European cash was used to build it.

Southampton and other UK cruise ports who have built up their industries on private funding are demanding Liverpool pays back all public hand outs for a level playing field.

Southampton MP John Denham accused Liverpool of “jumping the gun” and has demanding the Government step in to uphold competition law.

South East and North of England MEPs have set up a meeting with the EU’s competition commissioner.

Southampton’s Labour council leader Richard Williams will also be heading to Brussels this week to “fight to ensure that Liverpool plays by the rules”.

Liverpool City Council has not offered to pay back any EU funding claiming it was not a “condition upon the terminal solely being used as a call-in facility”.

City mayor Joe Anderson boasted tomorrow would be the “dawn of a new era for Liverpool’s cruise industry”.

Ocean Countess is scheduled to visit Liverpool 12 times during the 2012 cruise season, and a further 17 cruise turnarounds are scheduled between April and October 2013.