PM 'wasted £1m on Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge PR stunt'

20 January 2022, 20:59

Mhairi Black attacked the bridge plan, which would have linked Scotland with Northern Ireland
Mhairi Black attacked the bridge plan, which would have linked Scotland with Northern Ireland. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has been accused of wasting £900,000 on a "PR stunt" plan to build a road bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Figures released by the UK Department for Transport show that nearly £1 million of public money was spent on what opposition parties had described as "something dreamed up at 2am at a Downing St party".

Mr Johnson had promoted the idea of a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The idea ended up on the scrap heap last year after it was predicted it would cost billions and take 30 years to build.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy found that a bridge would cost £335 billion, while a tunnel would require a budget of around £209 billion.

His report concluded that the project "would be impossible to justify" as "the benefits could not possibly outweigh the costs".

Sir Peter was asked to investigate the possibility of a bridge or tunnel, as Boris Johnson believed it would strengthen ties between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the revelation that £900,000 was spent on the feasibility of a connection, SNP MP Mhairi Black said: "We knew from the beginning this wouldn't happen, and now it has been revealed that the UK government wasted close to £1 million of taxpayers' money on a feasibility study on its unworkable, doomed from the get-go idea.

"This just goes to show the Tories’'warped spending priorities. How many lateral flow tests could this have bought, or nurses salaries paid, or PPE purchased for those on the frontline in this pandemic?

"However, as daft as this idea was, it still promised to put £20 billion of investment into the Scottish and Northern Irish economies. The Prime Minister must honour the spending commitments he made and deliver that money to Scotland and Northern Ireland so they can use it for worthwhile infrastructure proposals."

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Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said the money spent was another example of Mr Johnson being "unfit to be Prime Minister".

He added: "This is a gobsmacking sum to have spent on a PR stunt. It sounds like something that the Prime Minister came up with at 2am at a Downing Street party.

"This is money that could have been spent on health, education and support for businesses.

"This bridge stunt is yet another example of Boris Johnson having fun at the expense of the taxpayer. He's totally unfit to be Prime Minister and should step aside.”

The report described how Beaufort's Dyke – an underwater trench on the most direct route between Scotland and Northern Ireland – would need to be "carefully surveyed" due to a million tons of unexploded munitions being dumped there between the First World War and the 1970s.

The research was carried out alongside a wider review of connectivity in the UK, which cost £1,102,525.

The DfT said the total of £1,999,206 for both studies was the amount spent on consultancy fees and department staff costs.

Sir Peter led the review alongside his role at Network Rail, and did not receive additional pay.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "Communities across the United Kingdom want to see better connections between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, which is why we have explored all options and have sought to work with the devolved governments to deliver that.

"The purpose of the Union Connectivity Review was to examine, in detail, all aspects of transport connectivity between the nations to boost and deliver further opportunities for people, families and communities.

"As part of this detailed review, we consulted with the best engineers and technical consultants and undertook extensive social and geographical research to carry out a comprehensive study.

"This has informed our approach to rail, road and air, including making travel cheaper for all parts of the UK by reducing Air Passenger Duty by 50% for domestic flights."