Boris Johnson’s much-touted idea of a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland is actively being worked on by government officials, the prime minister’s spokesman has revealed for the first time
At a lobby briefing yesterday (10 February), Johnson’s spokesman said that ‘a range of’ government officials are looking into the idea of the bridge, although no indication of a timescale was revealed.
Journalists at the briefing quoted the prime minister’s spokesman as saying: ‘Government officials are carrying out work in relation to the idea of a bridge linking the GB mainland to Northern Ireland. There is a proper piece of work being carried out into the idea.’
The spokesperson added: ‘It is reporting into No10, but obviously we will take advice from wherever it is needed.’
In September, Channel Four News reported that the prime minister had asked the Treasury and Department for Transport to prepare a feasibility study examining the costs and risks of a possible link.
The plan has been portrayed by some observers as an attempt to mollify Northern Irish unionists, at a time of anxiety over new customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under Johnson’s Brexit plan.
At December’s general election the Democratic Unionist Party made the bridge part of its manifesto, arguing it returned better value than HS2.
Asked about the bridge by DUP MP Ian Paisley before Christmas, Johnson told the House of Commons it was ‘a very interesting idea’, adding: ‘I advise him to watch this space and, indeed … watch that space between the islands, because what he has said has not fallen on deaf ears.’
Yesterday’s announcement is the first official confirmation that the government is actively working on the project.
The idea of a crossing between the countries was revived by architect Alan Dunlop in 2018 after Johnson, who was then foreign secretary, said he was interested in the idea of a bridge to France.
Johnson later turned his attention to a Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge.
The notion of building across the Irish Sea is not new, but concept proposals, including plans for a huge tunnel which was put forward during the First World War, have never progressed.
The Ministry of Defence has acknowledged that more than a million tonnes of weapons were dumped in the Irish Sea, much of it in Beaufort’s Dyke, a deep trench between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Frequent stormy weather and the difficulty of dragging into place pier structures that are likely to be taller than the Eiffel Tower are other potential problems.
Chris Wise, the engineering designer of the 2012 Olympic Velodrome, told The Guardian the scheme was ‘socially admirable but technically clueless’.
It has even been suggested that by the time it was completed Scotland might have voted for independence, while Northern Ireland could have voted to be part of a united Ireland.
However, the scheme appears to be taken seriously at the top of government. Some media outlets are reporting that Johnson wants the project to be the UK’s equivalent of the Øresund Bridge, which links Sweden and Denmark.
Dunlop, the principal of Alan Dunlop Architects, has previously estimated the price tag for a crossing from Mull of Kintyre to Torr Head would be about £12 billion. But he argues that a bridge between Portpatrick and Bangor or Larne could have more benefits, though it would also cost more.
As London mayor, Johnson backed the Garden Bridge, despite repeated warnings, spending £53.5 million of funds – £43 million of it taxpayers’ money – on a scheme that was never built.
A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed the lobby briefing to the AJ but said there was no further detail at this stage.