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Tunnel to Scotland going nowhere

IN his well-thumbed playbook of implausible projects to distract both himself and the general public from more important matters, even Boris Johnson must have considered a tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland a little far-fetched.

Consider the facts. At least 20 miles of notoriously rough water to be spanned. A deep submarine trench where an estimated one million tonnes of Second World War munitions have been dumped.

A likely cost of upwards of £20 billion at a time of acute pressure on public finances.

When a bridge across the North Channel was first suggested it was widely dismissed as unfeasible.

SDLP leader Column Eastwood described it a "fantasy", Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said it was a smokescreen for Brexit, while Alliance leader Naomi Long memorably referenced a "giant unionist umbilical cord".

Experts suggested that even if engineering challenges were overcome, the project was unlikely to be commercially viable.

The bridge then morphed into a tunnel and travelled as far as a feasibility study, as part of a government review of 'union connectivity' examining UK transport links.

The attraction to unionists is obvious - a physical link with Britain at a time when the union appears in danger of breaking up, thanks in no small part to the folly of the hard Brexit pursued by the DUP.

However, a cursory review of Mr Johnson's previous involvement in fanciful infrastructure projects should have made clear that he was leading the party down another blind alley.

To name just one example as London mayor, more than £50 million was wasted on unrealised plans for a 'garden bridge' crossing the River Thames.

Tellingly, the prime minister's former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, claimed his "only agenda is buy more trains, buy more buses, have more bikes and build the world's most stupid tunnel to Ireland”.

The Scottish tunnel proposal had already been thrown into doubt earlier this year when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested that connecting Ireland and Wales could be a more realistic option.

And to no-one's surprise, briefings from the Treasury have now indicated it has been taken off the table completely ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak autumn budget.

Plans for a fixed link with Scotland were always a road to nowhere and with so many pressing issues deserving of attention at both Stormont and Westminster, it must be hoped this distraction has now been permanently parked.

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