It might be stupid and vastly expensive, but we should build Boris"s Ireland-Scotland bridge anyway
Who can argue that the UK is burning bridges as it hurtles towards Brexit when it’s actually building them?
Boris Johnson has emerged as a backer of a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland, calling it “an interesting idea that should be looked at more seriously”.
The bridge would cost an estimated £15bn-£20bn, or around a year of promised weekly £350m payments to the NHS – but that’s not putting off the Foreign Secretary, who has added it to the shopping list after the 22-mile bridge he plans to build between Kent and France.
“It’s the kind of ambitious project we need to make a success of global Britain,” he adds.
Now that might sound like rhetoric, and his interest in building expensive and unnecessary megaprojects could be considered a distraction analogous to the rotating gold statue of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.
A bridge would be great
But whether his heart is in the right place or not, he’s right: there should be a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Why? Because it would be great.
The Prime Minister might have said no, but she’s not known for imagination or ambition, really.
I am on record as an advocate of a tunnel rather than a bridge. There are reasons why this makes more sense, including the irrational fear of getting blown into the sea on one of the 350 blustery days a year that the west coast of Scotland enjoys.
But as anyone who has ever hopped on a Boris bike or a Boris bus in London will know, the Foreign Secretary is mainly interested in infrastructure projects that start with B for alliteration reasons.
If that means it has to be a bridge, I’ll take a bridge.
Connecting the world
The case in favour is decent: Scottish and Northern Irish politicians, barely able to believe their luck, are perfectly willing for London to shell out a few billion for a huge project.
Linking picturesque Ireland with picturesque Scotland creates a tourism corridor that would benefit both in their pursuit of the heritage-American dollar and curious-Chinese yuan.
But it’s more than that. I’m Irish, and I’ve long looked on in awe at departure boards in French or German railway stations advertising trains to Milan and Barcelona and further afield. In Ireland, the train from Dublin will get you a few hours west and no further. There’s Northern Ireland, which is technically a different country, but you could cycle to Belfast in a day if you stopped for lunch.
The prospect of getting on a train in Heuston Station (named after the republican rebel, not the ancestral home of the Dukes of Grantham) and going overseas – to Glasgow or Edinburgh, sure, but eventually London, then Paris and on to the spidering rail map of Europe – is alluring to the point of being romantic.
I’m going to guess that many Scots might feel the same as they attempt to establish themselves as a small northern European liberal utopia while still attached to a hulking old-world power.
We’ve learned from Donald Trump’s accidental detente with North Korea that people who are ideologically, as well as just habitually, wrong can end up doing good things.
Calling it the Boris bridge in perpetuity would be annoying at first, but that’s a price worth paying.
These sorts of links can be transformative. They can reorient countries – and this one would, to be fair to Mr Johnson, say something reassuring about Britain’s supposed insular retreat from the world after Brexit.
Those wondering about a possible Irish Sea customs border need not worry either: there’d be plenty of space for checks on the 20-something mile span.