A proposed undersea tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland has hit some credibility problems with one senior Conservative MP describing it as a Doctor Dolittle fantasy designed to distract from post-Brexit border check problems.
“The trains could be pulled by an inexhaustible herd of unicorns overseen by stern, officious dodos,” tweeted Simon Hoare, the Tory MP who chairs Westminster’s Norther Ireland affairs committee.
“A PushmePullYou could be the senior guard,” he said, alluding to the Doctor Dolittle creature with a head at each end of its body, “and Puff the Magic Dragon the inspector”.
The idea was a fantasy that distracted from efforts to smooth post-Brexit checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, said Hoare. “Let’s concentrate on making the protocol work and put the hallucinogenics down.”
If the rail industry leaders who proposed tunnelling under the Irish Sea between Stranraer and Larne hoped for enthusiasm, or at least to be taken seriously, they must be disappointed by the withering responses.
Politicians and business leaders have lined up to scorn the idea, calling it a distraction from efforts to adapt to the Northern Ireland protocol, a part of the Brexit deal with requires customs checks on some goods entering the region from Great Britain.
“It’s time the prime minister woke up to that reality, people here simply don’t want a Boris bridge, a Boris burrow, frankly a Boris anything,” said Nichola Mallon, Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister. “They want jobs, opportunities, stability and a brighter future.”
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it took 30 years to build the Channel tunnel, that there was a munitions dump blocking the way and that any tunnel to Northern Ireland would not obviate border checks.
The most direct route passes Beaufort’s Dyke, a 1,000ft deep trench in the Irish Sea where the government dumped about 1m tonnes of unused explosives and chemical weapons, including sarin and mustard gas.
The High Speed Rail Group has proposed the tunnel in its submission to a review to a group tasked with exploring ways to improve connectivity between the four constituent parts of the UK, saying it would bind Northern Ireland closer to Great Britain and “address problems in economic status of Northern Ireland post-Brexit”.
The preferred route, based on 120-year-old research by the Victorian engineer James Barton, would be diverted to avoid Beaufort’s Dyke.
Sir Peter Hendy, who is leading the group, is expected to publish his interim report within weeks.
It appears to be a sequel to the bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland that Downing Street mooted last year. Critics called it a fantasy designed to mollify unionists worried that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal would undermine the region’s position in the UK.
The Ulster Unionist party leader, Steve Aiken, dismissed the tunnel as impractical. “Can we just have 10% of the multi-billions that it would cost to fix our infrastructure – oh, and maybe some zero-emission ferries [built here] – now that would make more sense [also get rid of the Irish Sea border].”
Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist party MP, did not ridicule the tunnel but said it was more important for Northern Ireland to be connected economically and constitutionally, not physically.