Government officials have started work to make Boris Johnson’s plan for a bridge from the British mainland to Northern Ireland a reality, Downing Street has confirmed.
The prime minister was ridiculed by senior Tories when he first suggested a bridge between Belfast and Scotland in 2018, including by the now-chancellor Sajid Javid.
“The PM set out that this was an idea which he believed could have some merit so as a result of that you would expect the government to be looking into it,” Johnson’s official spokesman said on Monday.
Concerns have been raised over the potential cost of the bridge, estimated at around £20bn, and the fact that more than a million tonnes of wartime munitions have been dumped in the sea on the potential route.
But there are thousands of flights between the UK and Northern Ireland every year and the prime minister believes the bridge could boost his agenda to “level up” the country’s regions.
It could also help soften the blow Johnson dealt Northern Irish unionists by creating a special status for the country which will mean customs checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as part of his Brexit deal with the EU.
The PM will hope that a bridge could help boost his prospects of keeping the UK together, with Scottish demands for independence and Irish demands for a border poll.
One potential route could see a 20 mile bridge-tunnel built between Portpatrick in Scotland and Larne in County Antrim, the Mail on Sunday reported.
Labour MP Wes Streeting said the news showed Johnson had failed to learn from his past pursuit of “vanity projects”.
While Johnson was London mayor, £50m of taxpayers’ money was wasted on the proposed London Garden Bridge which he supported.
He also faced criticism over the Emirates Air Line cable car, which cost taxpayers millions despite Johnson insisting the money could come from private companies. It has been dubbed a “white elephant” due to under-use.
Johnson has also been mocked for a failed proposal for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, dubbed ‘Boris island’.
His spokesman could not say which officials were working on the Northern Ireland scoping exercise or give a date for its completion.
But the project is being led by No.10, drawing on views from across Whitehall departments.
The bridge could be modelled on the Oresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark, a mixture of a tunnel and an over-sea crossing made famous in hit ‘Scandi noir’ drama The Bridge.
The world’s longest bridge is in China - the 102 mile Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge on the Beijing to Shanghai railway.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage described the plans for a bridge to Northern Ireland as “crazy”.
News of the bridge came as Johnson prepared to announce plans to push forward with the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link on Tuesday.