A Portpatrick-Larne Tunnel, Hurrah

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiThis was first posted on Facebook on 13th February 2021, with support from my Ko-Fi network.

On a Saturday where 43 Republican Senators decided that it didn’t matter how much Donald Trump was obviously guilty of inciting armed insurrectionists to storm the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power for which the US used to be famous, it may seem inappropriately banal to talk about Boris Johnson’s tunnel vision.

On Saturday the 13th, Boris Johnson leaked to the Telegraph that he seriously plans a tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This isn’t new: in September 2019, National Geographic published a detailed article about the £20bn project (Boris Johnson then claimed to believe it would cost £5bn). And in March 2020, Alister Jack, Conservative MP for Dumfries and Galloway and Secretary of State for Scotland, solemnly told the Telegraph that he favoured a tunnel between Portpatrick and Larne. Curiously enough, Portpatrick, whlle also geographically close to Northern Ireland, is also in Alister Jack’s constituency, and there are already two ferry terminals at Cairnryan, and the A77 provides a major road link of sorts between Cairnryan and Prestwick and on to Glasgow by the M77, which is just over 80 miles away.

So it’s all good, yes? One can easily grow transport into and out of this west coast peninsula, given the will and the funding. Why, ferry companies have been asking for this for many, many years. (The main rail link was closed down by a previous Conservative government in the 1960s.)

To be clear, if the UK government really did plan to build a tunnel between Portpatrick and Larne, the first two parallel steps would be a very thorough mapping and clearance of the sea bed between Northern Ireland and Scotland – it is seismically active, and has been used as a military dump. This would be a significant underwater project in itself.

Also, you would want to invest largely in boring road and rail into and through Dumsfries and Galloway, a huge, long-term project which would need to be carried out with due concern for Galloway Forest Park, which occupies a large part of the peninsula.

“…the tunnel project was first voiced, a project large enough to affect and stimulate the entire economy … Money in circulation, capital on the move, healthy profits for investors, businesses expanding to meet the needs for building the tunnel, employment all around, pay packets going out to the small merchants, a healthy economy.”

Harry Harrison. voicing Maynard Keynes, for a much larger but equally imaginary tunnel project in 1972, suggests the benefits of government financing a giant construction project – not even as a tunnel, but just because a government works project in a Depression is a good scheme. A new deal, as I’m sure someone already said.

But now Boris Johnson says definitely that it’s on. Sorry, the study by Sir Peter Hendy, appointed chairman of Network Rail by David Cameron’s Secretary of State for Transport, is going to say whether he thinks it’s at least as plausible as the garden bridge across the Thames.

The garden bridge which went from a beautiful idea by Joanna Lumley, to a project that took over £43M of public money and spent it without construction even being started, Boris Johnson signing an order in his last year in office as Mayor of London to circumvent the usual safeguards against so much public money being spent with nothing to show for it, and unable, (he said when he was asked) to remember why he should have done so.

Boris Johnson is hiring squads of new government workers to defeat the “Viet Cong SNP” (aside from everything else about this analogy, Johnson doesn’t seem to remember that the Viet Cong won) and trying all sorts of projects to win Scotland back to the union – he may even be restricting vaccine supplies to Scotland in order to make NHS Scotland look incompetent in the vaccine rollout: he has mooted the idea of sending Prince Edward to Scotland to live in Edinburgh because everyone knows how much the Scots love an English Edward, and – in what I’m sure he thinks is a brilliant stroke, two devolved nations won for the price of one tunnel – he wants to physically link two ports to improve trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Except that so long as Great Britain is a third country outside the EU, and Northern Ireland is still within the EU market and regulations, the border down the Irish Sea will exist no matter where the customs officers work, and the proposed 26-mile-long tunnel of anchored steel pontoons would be unusually vulnerable to terrorism.

The tunnel would also have to avoid, by one hopes a large margin, the undersea munitions dump in Beaufort’s Dyke, the deep trench between Scotland and Ireland, where the MoD admit to having disposed of about a million tons of munitions from WWII, as well as radioactive material from a later period. No, we will not consider a Godzilla vs Nessie movie. At least, not yet.

All in all, it’s really the kind of disaster-movie construction one actually hopes never gets built, but also the kind of plan where it’s hard to see the point of it (the garden bridge was, at least, a pretty idea), except that Boris Johnson thinks it’s a clever wheeze – and a moneymaking one, I’m sure, for his pals and donors. We’ve all seen how this crony capitalism works during the pandemic. There is no reason to suppose that, without ever actually beginning construction, the Irish Sea tunnel couldn’t provide a flood of money to Boris Johnson’s pals and donors.

It’s not, for Johnson, if the tunnel ever gets built – it’s whether he can point to a magnificent Plan, and ask rhetorically if Scotland as an independent country could ever do anythiing as splendid as this terrific construction project, this tunnel in the sea, hurrah. Hurrah.

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