The bridge to Northern Ireland is now a tunnel. No matter – it won’t be built

We can call it a bridge, we can call it a tunnel, we can call it a strawberry blancmange and it remains the same. It will never convey people from one side of it to the other

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Friday 06 March 2020 18:09
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The traditional way to introduce young people to the study of philosophy is to break the link between form and function. For those who have not yet read any Descartes, or merely got round to watching The Matrix, few things can be more certain to instil an immediate sense of baffled wonderment into a curious mind than to ask, for example, if you sit on a table and eat your dinner off a chair, which is the chair and which is the table?

Alas, such questions are rarely pondered over in the kind of schools that Boris Johnson did not go to, but the prime minister’s commitment to “levelling up” the country should not be doubted, and so it should not be ruled out that his promised bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland is not actually intended to be a bridge, but merely a national thought experiment.

It is mere weeks since the bridge that cannot be built was dredged up again, and reinflicted on the public conscience. We now learn that the Scottish secretary Alister Jack, thinks the bridge should, in fact, be a tunnel.

A tunnel would be cheaper, apparently, and “more weatherproof”.

What difference does it make? We can call it a bridge, we can call it a tunnel, we can call it a strawberry blancmange and it remains the same. It will never convey people from one side of it to the other.

The bridge that is impossible to build, the one that Boris Johnson dared us to believe could be built if we just believed in it, has now been ruled out on weather grounds. There are, it turns out, very high winds in the Irish Sea, that would require the bridge to be closed for up to 100 days a year.

Of course, you might be tempted to point out that high winds cannot possibly make the slightest bit of difference to a bridge that cannot be built, for the simple fact that it cannot be built.

It is like saying that you cannot build a cold fusion reactor at the top of a mountain because there would be nowhere for the staff to park. The point is that you can’t build a cold fusion reactor in the first place.

But that is to miss the point entirely. There is no bridge. There is no spoon. There is only what Boris Johnson wants you to believe. The bridge is not to be crossed, it is just to be believed in.

There is also no point raising the fact there are an estimated 1 million tons of Second World War munitions resting on the seabed where the bridge that cannot be built is meant to be built. A million tons of bombs don’t matter. Nothing real can harm the bridge that cannot be built. There is no bridge. There are no munitions. There is no danger. There was no war.

The Scottish secretary has told a committee of the Scottish parliament that he has raised the prospect of a tunnel, instead of a bridge. The tunnel would, he said, be a “cheaper alternative.” This is shortsighted. The bridge is free. It is made of nothing more than the shapeless air that comes out of Boris Johnson’s mouth. It cannot be costed because it cannot be built.

That the bridge should have become a tunnel shows, more than anything, a lack of imagination. Why not a teleporter? Why not a floating castle on a cloud? Why not carry people from Scotland to Northern Ireland on the back of that weird dragon from The NeverEnding Story?

It doesn’t matter what it is, what form it takes. What matters is that we discuss it, and in so doing, some of us will be persuaded to believe that Boris Johnson dares to dream bigger dreams than lesser mortals, and hopefully not work out that it is very obviously complete b*****ks.

On the day the bridge became a tunnel but stayed the same, the UK’s Brexit negotiating team also made clear its intention to pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights, pioneering, rights-guaranteeing legislation that this country was instrumental in drafting, back before it chose a new course, becoming instead an international pariah and a domestic basket case.

But these matters are complex, and it is best not to worry about them. Not when there is an unbuildable bridge to hope for – an unfalsifiable dream, a pie in the sky, a subterranean flight of fantasy. Best take the blue pill and see how deep the imaginary tunnel goes.

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