The problem with Boris Johnson’s dream of Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge – leader comment
Building bridges, both real and metaphorical, is usually a good idea, so it is rather exciting news that the UK Government is seriously considering creating one between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It’s not quite the Channel Tunnel, but still it could have a significant economic and cultural effects on both places, with greater interaction between people of different nationalities and backgrounds usually beneficial for both.
Boris Johnson is not someone who is scared to think big, having been a proponent of the Garden Bridge over the Thames, ‘Boris Island’, also known as the Thames Estuary Airport, and indeed Brexit, the biggest change to the UK in more than a generation. He has described the prospect of a Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge as “very interesting” and it’s not hard to see why.
When the Channel Tunnel became a serious proposition in the 1980s, there were those who doubted its value and made objections on various grounds, including national security, but today it is a key link to the Continent and widely regarded as a magnificent achievement.
The new bridge plan could run into trouble for various reasons, including concerns about large amounts of Second World War munitions that were dumped into the Irish Sea. But perhaps the biggest concern is the cost. One estimate suggests a bill of around £20 billion, but as we know from a number of recent major engineering projects such figures have a tendency to escalate dramatically.
After a decade of flat-lining wages and tight government spending, would this be the best use of tax-payers’ money? Would we see a big enough return to justify this investment or could the money be better spent elsewhere? Investing in hospitals and schools might be a better reflection of the public’s priorities.
Also, the UK economy is likely to take a hit as a result of Brexit and some experts have expressed fears of a global recession, so this may not be the right time to spend start such a major project.
Cynics may accuse Johnson of promoting a vanity project, but he may instead be thinking about how an old-fashioned stimulus could help tide the UK over a period of economic turmoil.
However the ultimate nightmare scenario would be an M8-style, half-finished ‘bridge to nowhere’. We like the ambition, but the Government should focus on other priorities and save this dream for another day.