The Prime Minister has launched an official review to look at how to improve Union transport connectivity, with a fixed Irish Sea link the headline proposal.
The PM has allocated £20million to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links across the UK.
But his political opponents have suggested that pursuing the ‘vanity project’ bridge or tunnel is a waste of money and that the cash should be spent on improving existing creaking infrastructure.
The proposed link between Northern Ireland and Scotland is the latest in a long line of major infrastructure projects that Mr Johnson has attached his name to.
He previously backed the Garden Bridge initiative in London, a so-called ‘Boris Island’ airport in the Thames Estuary and floated the idea of a bridge to France, but none of the ideas ever came to fruition.
An official review commissioned by Boris Johnson will look at the feasibility of building a fixed link between Northern Ireland and Scotland
Larne to Portpatrick, one of the most likely routes for a bridge or tunnel, is around 28miles (45km). The Torr Head headland in County Antrim, Northern Ireland is pictured
The so-called ‘Boris Burrow’ could connect Larne in Northern Ireland to Stranraer in Scotland (pictured: A map showing the proposed link)
‘Boris’ Burrow’: The £10billion tunnel to connect Northern Ireland to the mainland
‘Boris’ Burrow’ is the nickname for a 25-mile, £10billion, undersea tunnel that would link Stranraer in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland.
Studies are currently being undertaken by the chairman of Network Rail, Peter Hendy, to find out if the 25-mile tunnel would be possible.
A direct tunnel from Stranraer to Larne would have to cross Beaufort’s Dyke – where 1.5million tonnes of munitions were dumped after the Second World War
Mr Hendy has already met the Prime Minster to discuss his findings and his report is expected to be released within a matter of weeks.
But The Times last week reported that officials at Number 10 decided the 25-mile tunnel idea may be impractical.
Instead, officials have suggested three tunnels, starting from Stranraer, Liverpool and Heysham in Lancashire, could meet at a roundabout at the Isle of Man, before a tunnel stretched on to Larne.
The roundabout could be dubbed Douglas Junction – after the island’s capital, according to reports.
A link between Scotland and Northern Ireland was first proposed by Boris Johnson during the Tory leadership race in 2018 in the form of a bridge.
‘What we need to do is build a bridge between our islands,’ he declared, during an interview that was highly critical of Theresa May’s leadership.
‘Why don’t we? Why don’t we? There is so much more we can do, and what grieves me about the current approach to Brexit is that we are just in danger of not believing in ourselves, not believing in Britain.’
The new review into upgrading Union transport links is being led by Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy.
He said further work is required on the possibility of a ‘fixed link’ across the Irish Sea.
Sir Peter has commissioned two engineering professors to lead a study into the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, outlining its cost, timescale and the work involved.
They are ex-HS2 and Crossrail chairman Douglas Oakervee and former vice-president of Jacobs Engineering Gordon Masterton.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly spoken about the prospect of a bridge, even though experts have warned that the depth of the Irish Sea and the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems.
The scheme could cost a reported £20billion, although the Prime Minister has previously said it would ‘only cost about £15billion’.
The distance from Larne to Portpatrick, one of the most likely routes for a bridge, is around 28miles (45km).
Mr Johnson was grilled on the proposal this afternoon during PMQs as Colum Eastwood, SDLP MP for Foyle, said: ‘The Prime Minister’s fantasy bridge to Northern Ireland could cost £30billion, this when our road and rail networks have been absolutely decimated from decades of under-investment.
‘The Conservative Party got a grand total of 2,399 votes at the last assembly election.
‘What mandate does he think he has to override the democratically elected people of Northern Ireland to impose a bridge that goes through miles of unexploded munitions and radioactive waste?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘Actually, if he read the article I wrote this morning in the Daily Telegraph he will have seen that the things we have set out in the Hendy Review I think would be of massive benefit to Northern Ireland.’
He added: ‘It is a fantastic Union connectivity review. He should appreciate it. It is the way forward. I am amazed frankly at his negativity.’
The PM said in November 2018 that the length of the bridge, cost, and the presence of explosives were not problems, saying: ‘The problem is not the undersea Beaufort’s Dyke or lack of funds. The problem is an absence of political will.’
The Scottish Government’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson today branded the bridge or tunnel proposal as ‘nothing more than a vanity project’ for Mr Johnson.
He said the cost could be up to £50billion, which would ‘suck financial resources away’ from other transport infrastructure projects and the wider economy.
He told MSPs: ‘The bridge or tunnel is nothing more than a vanity project and I’ll say again, it won’t happen in my lifetime and I suspect it won’t happen in the lifetime of anyone in this committee.’
The proposed bridge or tunnel connecting Northern Ireland and Scotland is not the first major infrastructure project to have been backed by Mr Johnson.
A bridge linking the UK with France
In January 2018 Mr Johnson floated the ides of building a bridge or road tunnel between Britain and France.
He raised the prospect of building the link at a crunch summit between French and British senior political figures.
The then-foreign secretary was said to have put forward the idea of a second Channel Tunnel during meetings at Sandhurst military academy.
He was understood to have told aides: ‘They are two of the world’s biggest economies and they are linked by a single railway. It is ridiculous.’
Mr Johnson reportedly floated the idea of building another fixed link between Britain and France. The border gate at Calais is pictured
Mr Johnson had tweeted on the subject: ‘So much important work in [the UK-France summit] outcomes, but I’m especially pleased we are establishing a panel of experts to look at major projects together.
‘Our economic success depends on good infrastructure and good connections. Should the Channel Tunnel be just a first step?’
It was previously claimed that Mr Johnson wanted to build a multi-billion-pound highway to the continent to show the EU the UK was not giving up on Europe despite quitting the bloc.
It was reported that in private conversations at the 2016 Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Mr Johnson said: ‘If you wanted to show your commitment to Europe, is it not time for us to have further and better economic integration with a road tunnel? That’s what we need.’
‘Boris Island’ airport
Mr Johnson had dreamed of building a £100billion airport in the Thames estuary but it was ultimately ditched after experts said the plan was unrealistic.
The scheme, dubbed Boris Island, would have seen a new four-runway hub airport built in the Thames estuary with high-speed rail links to London.
The then-London mayor had argued that, with expansion at Heathrow constrained, the island was the only way to keep the UK competitive in terms of airport capacity.
Artist’s impression: Mr Johnson supported plans to build a ‘Boris Island’ airport in the Thames Estuary but the project was ditched
But experts ultimately decided to focus their attention on expanding capacity at Heathrow or Gatwick.
Aviation bosses had also slammed the project as ‘hare-brained’ and ‘insanely and asininely stupid’.
London’s ‘Garden Bridge’
When Mr Johnson was mayor of London he supported efforts to build a controversial ‘Garden Bridge’ spanning the River Thames.
But the proposal was ultimately killed off by his successor in City Hall, Sadiq Khan.
Mr Johnson had backed the plans for the bridge back in 2013, saying his transport authority would ‘help enable’ the scheme originally put forward by actress Joanna Lumley.
But it was formally torpedoed by Mr Khan in 2017 when he refused to provide financial guarantees for the structure.
The controversial Garden Bridge project would have spanned the River Thames but it was scrapped in 2017
Mr Khan said the increasing capital costs of the project, the risk of the bridge only being partially built and doubts over a fund to help meet future maintenance bills meant it had to go.
Less than half the funds needed to finance the project had been pledged and Mr Khan said at the time that London faced being left with a half-built bridge that it would either have to complete or demolish if the plans were allowed to go ahead.
More than £37million of public money had already been spent on the project.