Boris Johnson wants the European Union to pay for a bridge linking Scotland and Northern Ireland post-Brexit, according to Ireland’s taosieach Leo Varadkar.
The Irish leader said he and the UK prime minister had recently discussed the plan which Johnson described last week as a “very interesting idea”.
Varadkar said he told Johnson the UK would be expected to pay for the bridge, “at which point he suggested, ‘no, no, the EU is going to pay for it’,” the taoiseach added.
“So that’s definitely not going to happen, because neither Northern Ireland or Scotland are going to be in the EU.
“But it was kind of half serious, half joking in a way. But all messing aside, I do think at the very least a high-level engineering assessment should be done as to whether it is a viable proposal.”
Spanning the divide
The shortest distance would span 13 miles between the south-west tip of the Mull of Kintyre and the north-east corner of Northern Ireland. That, however, would require billions of extra spending on the major upgrades to the existing road network to connect Glasgow and Edinburgh to the bridge in order to make it feasible.
The Centre for Cross Border Studies think tank proposed a bridge between Larne to Dumfries and Galloway more than a decade ago, to help reduce air travel and provide international rail links. It was estimated then that it would cost £3.5 billion but now, the same bridge would be at least £15 billion. However, other experts, according to the BBC, describe £20 billion for such a bridge as a “conservative estimate.”
One of the biggest hurdles for engineers given the task would be dealing with a deep submarine trench area called Beaufort Dyke in which an estimated million-plus tonnes of WW2 munitions and weapons were dumped.
When plans for a bridge were revealed by Channel 4 News in September a senior Scottish government source dismissed them as “pie in the sky” and the “usual smokescreen bluster” from Johnson.
DUP urge PM to build the bridge
Plans for a bridge or tunnel to link Northern Ireland and Scotland date back to the 1890s with potential economic gains and cultural links stressed by those seeing political advantage in such a project.
For example, the Democratic Unionist Party’s chief whip Sammy Wilson MP urged Johnson to build the bridge as a way of winning back trust from Northern Ireland’s unionist community.
The PM’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU left many unionists feeling betrayed by Johnson given the plans for a customs border down the Irish Sea.
Wilson said a bridge would show the PM is a sincere advocate for unionism, earlier this month, whilst warning Johnson he risks overseeing the breakup of the UK unless he changes the perception that the country is run “by remote control by southern English men and women.”
UUP want investment in other infrastructure
The Ulster Unionist Party’s leader Steve Aiken differed with Wilson and said investment in Northern Ireland’s infrastructure was urgently needed before any bridge was built.
The taosieach shares the same opinion as Aiken and said he was more interested in discussing other projects with the prime minister including a high-speed rail link between Cork, Dublin and Belfast and improving the A5 road to Derry and Donegal.
“There are actually loads of really good projects we could do together that might not cost as much and would definitely be more feasible than a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland,” said Varadkar.
Linking the Ulster University at Magge College in Derry with the Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Donegal, plans for the Ulster canal and improving road and rail connections are among those other such projects.
“But in my pursuit of those ones I’m not going to dismiss the one that the prime minister’s particularly keen on,” said the taoiseach.