Only a couple of weeks after officially leaving the European Union, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson renewed--for the third time in history--a wildly ambitious idea that is more than 100 years old: The construction of a 21.7-mile-long bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Despite the skepticism coming from both experts and citizens, it seems that ministers are actively looking into Johnson’s idea of a road bridge, which he first brought up in a 2018 interview, ostensibly to help both countries feel more connected to the union that is no longer relevant for the UK.
That’s no matter, though. Johnson has instructed civil servants to look at how the project can be delivered and is awaiting an official assessment on whether it's feasible.
The PM’s spokesman told reporters that this proved the prime minister is “ambitious in terms of infrastructure projects”.
“Government officials are carrying out work in relation to the idea of a bridge linking GB mainland to NI. There’s a proper piece of work being carried out into the idea,” the spokesman said.
In September last year, local media reported that Johnson had ordered government officials to explore the possibility of building the bridge. And then late last year, he put a price tag on his proposal for the first time during a visit with school children.
“I was talking about building a bridge from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland – that would be very good. It would only cost about £15bn ($20),” PM Johnson told kids.
Two potential routes for such a bridge have been suggested–from the Mull of Kintyre to the Antrim coast and, now considered more likely, from the fishing village of Portpatrick to Larne.
Officials reportedly think the bridge could be based on the 4.8-mile Oresund Bridge, which connects Sweden to Denmark. In length, the proposed bridge would still be outdone by the 34.1-mile-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
Industry experts are hardly sold on the idea. One retired engineer compared the feasibility of the plan to “building a bridge to the moon”.
Experts have also raised concerns over the practicality of constructing a bridge across the “stormy” stretch of water that is more than 1,000 feet deep in places. Another concern is the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems for any project. In the years immediately following World War II, the Ministry of Defense dropped an estimated 1m tons of munitions in these waters.
And then, there is the political context.
The bridge proposal enjoys partial support in Northern Ireland but isn’t very well received in Scotland. And ministers on both sides of the Irish sea have rejected the proposal as a waste of money.
“I think to say there are some big questions around the feasibility and deliverability of the suggested bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland would be an understatement,” Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), was quoted as saying.
Britain’s exit from the EU has relaunched the debate on Scotland’s independence, which was rejected by 55% of voters in a 2014 referendum. However, during the Brexit vote in 2016, 62% of voters in Scotland supported remaining in the EU, compared to those across the UK as a whole, who voted to leave by 52%.
Sturgeon said earlier this month that she would do everything possible to obtain a referendum this year. She indicated that she did not rule out going to the courts to test her government’s right to organize a consultative vote on Scottish independence.
Prime Minister Johnson is opposed to a new vote, and in mid-January, he formally rejected a request for a referendum. The last three polls in Scotland have shown slim majorities in favor of independence.
At a time when major questions remain about unity, a unifying bridge isn’t likely to fly.
By Anes Alic for SafeHaven.com
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