North insulted by Boris Johnson’s fantasty bridge or tunnel to Ireland – Andrew Vine

IF Boris Johnson wheeled barrowloads of £20 notes into the middle of Downing Street and set them on fire, it wouldn’t be a greater waste of money than the £20m he is about to fritter away.

The Channel Tunnel does not justify Boris Johnson's desire for a tunnel under the Irish Sea, writes Andrew Vine.

That is the bill for a feasibility study into the hare-brained idea of building either a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland, which is about as likely to happen as Mr Johnson setting foot on Mars.

Despite that, and despite the fact that nobody much in either Scotland or Northern Ireland needs a 28-mile long bridge or tunnel between the two, this astronomical sum of money is going to be blown anyway.

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It isn’t like the preparatory work for the Channel Tunnel all those decades ago. Then, it was apparent that a fast link to Europe was in Britain’s best interests given the amount of trade, and the tunnel has justified its cost many times over.

Boris Johnson during his latest visit to Scotland where support for the Tories is still fragile.

There is no such economic case for a link between Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the projected £20bn cost of building one could never be justified.

Any sensible adult could tell the Prime Minister for nothing what £20m is going to be wasted on establishing – the notion is a non-starter, not least because any route would have to cross Beaufort’s Dyke, where one-and-a-half million tonnes of World War Two munitions are dumped, which would make tunnelling a risky business.

But Mr Johnson presses on regardless, which perhaps is not a surprise given that he has form for wasting huge sums of public money on fantasy projects. Whilst Mayor of London, he blew £37m on developing plans for a garden bridge across the Thames which came to nothing.

His largesse in wasting tens of millions on unrealistic projects plucked from the air has an infuriating counter-balance – his parsimony in actually providing funds for things that matter.

That ought to be a source of huge indignation for those of us in the North who see all around an urgent need for investment that somehow never seems to happen, even as £20m for research into a nonsensical bridge is signed off without a second thought.

The message needs to be rammed home that county-to-county travel needs to be addressed before country-to-country bridges or tunnels are even considered. Why on Earth isn’t the money being spent on improving existing transport links that are simply not fit for purpose?

Any driver on Yorkshire’s motorways or trunk roads could present Mr Johnson with a list of problems that need addressing. Their counterparts on any train running in the region could do likewise.

When we do see the prospect of some money coming our way, it is usually as part of a wider scheme, as in yesterday’s announcement by Mr Johnson of £3bn to improve bus services and which won’t go very far when the pot is spread nationwide.

The problems are not confined only to transport, but go to the heart of communities both large and small. Any councillor or local authority officer in the county could list looming cuts and shortfalls in funding that are going to make the year ahead difficult and potentially leave people in need without services they rely on.

For a man who prides himself on his skills as a communicator, Mr Johnson has a knack for sending out precisely the wrong messages. He shows no sign of understanding how infuriating it is for towns and cities crying out for additional spending, yet being denied it, to read of the blithe readiness to stump up tens of millions for idiotic projects.

Throwing money at Scotland – or at Northern Ireland, as his predecessor, Theresa May, did to buy Unionist support in the Commons – to counter nationalist sentiment makes it feel to the rest of us in the English regions that we are second-class citizens in our own country.

Here, we advance detailed and convincing economic arguments about why increased investment in the North would reap benefits not just for ourselves, but for the entire country. We don’t raise difficulties or float unrealistic schemes, but offer practical answers.

The response from Ministers is too often condescending in its tone, a pat on the head for a bright pupil who doesn’t understand the realities of the world, and can’t expect to be given money.

But when Scottish nationalists engage in confrontation and threats, which is their default position, Ministers jump like frightened cats and attempt to buy off voters with funding.

The irony is that blowing millions on planning a bridge that will never be built won’t achieve that. The people of Scotland and Northern Ireland know just as well as the rest of us that it will never happen.

Meanwhile, the North continues to be short-changed, and we watch yet more millions we could put to good use going up in smoke.

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