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Political column – February 15

By Toby Neal | Politics | Published:

All has become clear. We do not have a Prime Minister. We have a super hero.

Without a cape, obviously.

He is a prospective builder of unfeasible bridges. He concocts extraordinary railway projects with extraordinary costs. He whips up a force field of positivity.

And he has developed a British space project which sees Chancellors of the Exchequer blasted into orbit.

All in one week!

Boris Johnson is a man in a hurry. He must know something that we don't. Or maybe he knows something that we might also know, in that the early term of a new government in office with a big majority offers a fleeting opportunity to do the big things.

It is an opportunity which may never arise again as political realities begin to bite and dreaded and unpredictable "events" start to blow an administration off course.

There isn't even an opposition at the moment worthy of the name.

As well as Boris' major infrastructure visions, we've all discovered that we'll have to buy new electric cars even sooner than we had thought. Sounds like a terrible blow to the caravan industry as nobody will have a car capable of towing them.

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The idea of a Boris Bridge linking Scotland to Northern Ireland is a project which is both exciting and ambitious, with challenges which can be overcome by brilliant British expertise and enthusiastic waving of the Union Jack.

That's what I would say if I was the press officer for the project.

But I'm not. My technical expertise doesn't stretch much further than putting up a shelf, but my intuitive feeling about the project, based on a glance at a map, is that a key element might as well be refloating the Titanic to act as a pontoon, for all the sense it would make.

Once, many years ago, I drove down the Mull of Kintyre all the way to Campbeltown, through 90 miles of nothingness – there weren't even any sightings of Paul McCartney (who has, or if not, had, a farm in those parts).

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That's a lot of nowhere to travel through to get to a bridge.

An alternative crossing point would be from somewhere near Portpatrick to somewhere near Carrickfergus.

I remember from my childhood a holiday we had close to a place in southern Scotland called Dalbeattie. When we were on the M6 having got as far as the Lake District, my mother asked my dad how much further it was to go. After a bit of research, we established it was the same distance again. That did not put her in a good mood.

If we had been aiming for a bridge at Portpatrick, we would have had a considerable distance still to go from Dalbeattie.

So you see, anybody from England wanting to get to Northern Ireland over Boris' Bridge would be forced to drive into Scotland, which by the time the bridge was built might be independent, so you might also have to have your passport with you, plus a little bit of cash in Sturgeons, which is what an independent Scotland's currency will surely be called.

It also goes without saying that if you wanted to drive hundreds of miles up to and through Scotland to get to Boris' Bridge, you would have to want to get to Northern Ireland very much, but paradoxically not very quickly.

Now for the technical challenges. There's a big gap. And there's a lot of water.

I'm calling it a bridge but according to reports it could be part bridge and part tunnel, at a cost of £20 billion, although my own calculations put the total cost at umpteen zillions.

At least you wouldn't need to get the Stranraer (actually, Cairnryan) to Larne ferry. Return cost for a car with one adult, incidentally, early next week is from £228.

Except you don't need to drive to Stranraer to get the ferry. You can get a ferry for an adult and car from Birkenhead to Belfast for under £200 return.

Naturally you would balk at the idea of catching a climate-destroying airliner, but if you didn't, you would make the journey in no time at all.

Let's face it, there has been a lot of mockery of Boris' big idea, but these are the same sort of nimbyset people who would object if somebody suggested demolishing great swathes of housing in northern Wolverhampton to reopen the town's aerodrome.

There is a possibility that Boris' Bridge is a Dominic Cummings wheeze to get us talking.

But if Boris is resorting to such distractions early in his term when the going is as good as it's going to get for him, what will he do when the going gets tough. Declare a minor war?

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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