Wednesday

29th Jun 2022

Irish leader backs UK idea of bridge to Scotland

  • Moon over existing Kessock Bridge in Scotland (Photo: colin campbell)

A British idea that was previously lambasted by engineers - to build a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland - might be "viable", Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

"All messing aside, I do think at the very least a high-level engineering assessment should be done as to whether it is a viable proposal," Varadkar said in Dublin on Thursday (26 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 'Boris bridge' might be 'viable' after all, Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar said (Photo: International Transport Forum)

"I know people dismiss these things out of hand, but they used to dismiss the Channel Tunnel as well ... and I know what I see when I see a bridge between Denmark and Sweden, [or] when you fly over New Orleans [in the US] and you see 110 miles of bridge. It's extraordinary," he said.

The Northern Ireland bridge plan was first put forward by British prime minister Boris Johnson in September, who said it would cost "only" £15bn (€18bn).

It came amid emotional Brexit talks on how to keep open the Irish land border without creating a new customs border in the Irish Sea, which might make Northern Ireland feel cut off from the rest of the UK.

And it was derided by experts, who said the depth of the water made the project nothing like the Channel Tunnel or the Denmark-Sweden bridge and that the economic benefits of connecting Scottish and Northern Irish cities were nothing like those of connecting Paris to London.

The Northern Ireland bridge would require 30 support masts each one taller than the Eiffel Tower and was "about as feasible as building a bridge to the moon," one retired offshore engineer, James Duncan, told British newspaper The Times in September.

"No sane contractor or responsible government" would undertake its construction, he said.

But Johnson's final Brexit deal does envisage an Irish Sea customs border and he has continued to promote his bridge scheme.

"It is a very interesting idea ... watch that space between those islands," he told MPs in the House of Commons one week ago.

He has talked about it with Varadkar, who added, recalling one conversation between the two men: "At which point he [Johnson] suggested: 'No, no, the EU is going to pay for it [the bridge]'. So that's definitely not going to happen, because neither Northern Ireland or Scotland are going to be in the EU. But it was kind of half-serious, half-joking in a way".

The Scottish engineer who originally conceived the bridge in 2018, Alan Dunlop, also praised it on Thursday.

"I'm delighted that the taoiseach has ... come out in support of the idea," Dunlop told Scottish newspaper The National.

"A bridge to link Scotland and the UK to Ireland is a project fit for the 21st century. There is also interest internationally. I've spoken about it with colleagues in the US and on visits to Australia and China this year. We have the engineering and architectural talent here in Scotland to create such a structure," Dunlop said.

And with the UK poised to leave the EU on 31 January, Johnson might need an ostentatious enterprise to make people feel good in future.

Symbolism

The "symbolic" first post-Brexit year could see weak growth and falling employment in Britain, the Resolution Foundation, a London-based think-tank, warned also on Thursday.

There were "clouds on the horizon" for 2020 "with worrying signs including falling vacancies and rising youth unemployment," it said.

"So much unnecessary damage has been done to you [British people], and all of us. And I fear more will follow," European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans also said in an open letter to British newspaper The Guardian one day after Christmas.

With the flashy bridge plan back in the air, Timmermans spoke of Brexit itself as a populist trick, adding: "Our differences [were] manipulated to instil fear, to propagate superiority, to set one family member against the other."

But the UK "will always be welcome to come back" and rejoin the EU if it wanted, he said.

Von der Leyen warns of tough Brexit talks in 2020

The EU Commission president told MEPs in Strasbourg that time is running out in the expected 11 months available to strike a future trade deal with the UK - negotiations will have to continue into 2021 too.

Huge win for Conservatives in UK election

Britain is almost certain to leave the EU in January after a huge election win for prime minister Boris Johnson, but Scotland aims to break off and stay.

Opinion

Europe, Scotland and Brexit - what next?

Despite its pro-Europeanism, joining the euro is remarkably unpopular in Scotland. Public opinion on Nato is also mixed, and defence will be another point of debate.

Opinion

How May election could see an independent Scotland by 2023

Between June 2020 and February 2021, 22 consecutive opinion polls indicated majorities in favour of Scottish independence. That kind of sustained support for statehood is unprecedented in modern Scottish history.

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

News in Brief

  1. Bulgaria expels 70 alleged Russian spies
  2. EU Commission told to improve CAP data analytics
  3. Scotland pushes for second independence vote in 2023
  4. Climate groups: G7 leaders 'backsliding' on climate
  5. Ukraine diplomat urges German MEPs to reject EU taxonomy
  6. EU asylum requests were climbing before Ukraine war
  7. Public sector journalists protest Macron tax plan
  8. EU engine ban splits Germany's coalition

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. EU presidency still looking for asylum relocation pledges
  2. Finland and Sweden to join Nato, as Erdoğan drops veto
  3. The euro — who's next?
  4. One rubicon after another
  5. Green crime-fighting boss urgently required, key MEP says
  6. G7 leaders want price cap on Russian oil
  7. Western public has 'moral' duty to Ukraine, Nato chief says
  8. Kiwis are my slavery — the hellish life of a Sikh labourer in Italy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us