BORIS Johnson now wants to build a tunnel to link Scotland and Northern Ireland – instead of a bridge, his Scottish Secretary has revealed.
Alistair Jack said a tunnel is preferable because it would avoid two key problems with building a bridge.
Boris Johnson wants to build a tunnel to link Scotland and Northern Ireland instead of a bridge
Experts had warned that a bridge would be hit with frequent closures due to high winds.
And unexploded World War Two bombs dumped in an area in the Irish Sea known as Beaufort’s Dyke also poses a major stumbling block to building a bridge.
Mr Jack said a tunnel would also be cheaper to build and said it could be completed by 2030.
The Scotland Secretary said he and the PM are “on exactly the same page”.
It signals a shift from Mr Johnson’s previous position earlier this year, when he said serious consideration was being given to building a bridge between Portpatrick in Dumfries and Larne on the east coast of County Antrim.
Signalling the project was moving a step closer to becoming a reality, Mr Jack said a link between the two countries would boost the economies of Northern Ireland and south-west Scotland, while also strengthening the Union.
Asked about it during an evidence session in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Jack said: “I’m very keen on it now, but it’s not a bridge that I’m keen on, it’s a tunnel.
“It’s no different to the tunnels connecting the Faroes, it’s not different to the tunnels underneath the fjords, and it deals with the problem of Beaufort’s Dyke and the World War Two munitions.
“The bridge for me is a euphemism for a link, which is a tunnel.”
He later said it could even be the case that a crossing is made up of sections of both bridge and tunnel.
He added: “But I think the best solution if we’re going to bridge Scotland with Northern Ireland is a tunnel, and I’ve had conversations along those lines with the Prime Minister.”
Mr Jack also said he and the Prime Minister are “on exactly the same page” when it comes to the idea of an underwater crossing.
According to the Scottish Secretary, he has been told by a number of engineers that a tunnel would cost less than a bridge.
Mr Jack described the plans as being in the “discussion phase”, and it would be for the Prime Minister to “push the button” and move forward with a full feasibility study to test if the proposals are possible.
When the initial plans were made public, the Scottish and Northern Irish transport secretaries wrote to the Prime Minister and called for the estimated £20 billion cost to instead be given to the devolved administrations to improve infrastructure – a position First Minister Nicola Sturgeon agreed with.
Mr Jack refused to reveal any costings he had been quoted for the crossing, but did say it would be “quite achievable” to have the tunnel built by 2030, adding: “Since the Channel Tunnel, costs have come down and techniques have improved dramatically.
“The problem is not about whether or not it’s feasible, it’s about how quickly you do it… If you’re going to do it you should get on and do it.”
Last night Downing Street confirmed that the PM is considering opting for a tunnel rather than a bridge.
The PM’s spokesman said: “The PM is passionate about improving connectivity all across the UK and work is being carried out to look at this project.
“The PM has always been clear that we should be ambitious in our plans for infrastructure across the country.
“We are looking at a wide range of schemes which could boost connectivity”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Jack said building a tunnel would be preferable because it would avoid two key problems with a bridge — the weather and unexploded World War Two bombs