In Depth

Would a Boris bridge to Northern Ireland work?

No. 10 confirms that officials are looking into building a bridge across the Irish Sea

Boris Johnson is facing ridicule after No. 10 said the government was looking into building a bridge connecting Northern Ireland and Scotland.

According to the BBC, work is underway “by a range of government officials” to look at the idea of building a Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge, with Johnson describing the prospect as a “very interesting idea”.

The PM first talked about the concept in 2018 and again last September, when engineers told The Guardian the plan was “bonkers”.

What does Johnson want?

According to The Scotsman, the PM is “seeking to sanction a series of grand infrastructure projects to cement the legacy of his rule” despite opponents of the move previously describing it as a “waste of public money”.

If such a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland were to be built, it would likely be a bridge-and-tunnel combination. The BBC reports that two routes have been floated - from Portpatrick to Larne or near Campbeltown to the Antrim coast.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister has said it would have some merit - as a result you would expect government to be looking into it.

“Work is under way by a range of government officials.”

How much would it cost?

In September, Johnson told London schoolchildren that he was thinking “about building a bridge from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland”, adding: “That would be very good. It would only cost about £15bn.”

Chris Wise, the engineer behind London’s Millennium Bridge, later said it was foolish to put a price on the plan before a proper design had been completed.

“It’s socially admirable but technically clueless. If Boris wants to stay prime minister, he needs to stop promising figures before he can deliver them,” he said.

“If everything from the Olympics to HS2 are anything to go by, to quote the number and the price of any of these publicly funded projects this early without a design, in my view, is bonkers.”

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Dr John McKinley, a senior lecturer in environmental engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, agreed that the plan was based on “dubious economics”.

“The idea has been floating around since the 1880s and seems to come around every 30 to 40 years,” said McKinley. “Connecting Belfast to Glasgow, lovely places though I think they both are, isn’t as obviously a good thing as connecting London to Paris.”

Is it feasable?

One problem with the idea is the proposed routes would likely cross Beaufort’s Dyke, the UK’s largest offshore dump site for conventional and chemical munitions after the Second World War.

According to the Herald Scotland, the dyke, just seven miles off Portpatrick, contains “a million tons of munitions” including “14,500 tons of artillery rockets filled with phosgene gas as well as two tons of concrete-encased metal drums filled with radioactive waste dumped there during the 1950s”.

In a letter to The Times, another engineer warned that the plan was “about as feasible as building a bridge to the Moon”, while the Architects Journal’s Simon Aldous has said: “As London mayor, he spaffed (I believe that’s his favoured term) £43m on a never-built Garden Bridge.

“Boris Johnson’s modus operandi seems to be well established now: waffle vacuously and then, if something more substantial seems necessary, propose a bridge.”

As well as this, The Guardian notes that if Johnson were to go ahead with the project, “it is not impossible that, by the time it was actually finished, Scotland could have voted for independence and Northern Ireland could have voted for reunification with the Republic of Ireland”. 

“It could end up as a bridge between two countries no longer part of the UK.”

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