Leo Varadkar’s ‘row’ with Boris Johnson over Northern Ireland bridge laid bare

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Although Brexit trade talks are on the cusp of collapse, discussions around building a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland have returned. It was initially suggested as a way to soothe Northern Irish unionists’ nerves over potential isolation from the rest of the UK after Brexit — fears which have only increased since the Northern Ireland Protocol was passed. The project, which has been estimated to cost £20billion, was resurrected by Mr Johnson last year and has since been dubbed “the Boris bridge”.

Yet, Ireland’s then Taoiseach Mr Varadkar revealed in December that he told Mr Johnson the concept of a bridge was “worth examining”.

Mr Varadkar told reporters: “At which point [Mr Johnson] suggested, ‘no, no, the EU is going to pay for it’.

“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.

“But 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.”

He continued: “I know people dismiss these things out of hand, but they used to dismiss the Channel Tunnel as well — the idea of building a tunnel between France and Britain — and I know what I see when I see a bridge tunnel between Denmark and Sweden, when you fly over New Orleans and you see 110 miles of bridge, it’s extraordinary.

“I think we need to at least check out if this is viable in engineering terms and how much money it would cost to do.”

Despite some calling it a “unicorn bridge”, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told Sky’s Kay Burley earlier this week that it would bring great benefits to the UK.

He said: “Big infrastructure projects throughout history have sometimes been controversial, difficult, but they’re the right thing to do.”

However, Sky’s senior Ireland correspondent David Blevins added: “Critics suggest the government is continually building this fantasy bridge to shift the focus from the customs post that is being built.”

The Northern Ireland Protocol, the Withdrawal Agreement clause Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson decided upon last year, is supposed to prevent any conflict returning to the Irish border.

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Northern Ireland will still have to abide by the EU’s single market and customs union regulations for its goods after Brexit, but will continue to have “unfettered access” to the rest of the UK.

A customs border is expected to be installed in the Irish Sea instead.

Mr Blevins claimed that the bridge “project has been resurrected every time the Government needs to steady Unionist nerves in this corner of the UK”.

However, the project has had backing from Brexiteers.

For example, Brexit Party chairman and former MEP Richard Tice wrote on Twitter this week: “Bridge between N Ireland & Scotland would be fantastic for local jobs and economies.

“What about also between Ireland & Wales. Much better than HS2.”

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