Transport secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed the UK Government is looking at the possibility of building a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland as part of its review of connectivity within the UK.
The government believes the connection will combat some of the effects Brexit has had on links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “One of the elements in that review is should we have some sort of fixed connection – that could be a tunnel, it could be a bridge – between, for example, Scotland and Northern Ireland which is the closest crossing.
“Actually it is odd in a sense that we don’t have a connection with another part of the United Kingdom so it is looking at whether that is feasible or not.”
Shapps said that any fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland is more likely to be a tunnel than a bridge.
He said: “I imagine that you would need to do a tunnel because of weather factors.”
“What we are talking about here is bridging or tunnelling a distance from here to France where notably we have built a tunnel.
“I don’t think it should be controversial that it would a good idea to make sure all parts of the United Kingdom are connected together as easily as possible.”
He also rejected a claim by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that money could be better spent than on building a link between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson has previously rubbished the idea of a fixed link between the nations as Prime Ministers Boris Johnson’s “vanity project”.
He said the Scottish Government already has its own “robust process” for considering future transport infrastructure projects, and he claimed Westminster’s Union Connectivity Review is “a systematic attack on the Scottish Parliament’s powers – a power-grab that fundamentally undermines devolution”.
His comments came after Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, who is heading the review, said further work is required on the possibility of a “fixed link” across the Irish Sea.
Sir Peter has commissioned two engineering professors to lead a study into the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, outlining its cost, timescale and the work involved.
Johnson has repeatedly spoken about the prospect of a bridge, even though experts have warned the depth of the Irish Sea and the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems.
The scheme could cost a reported £20 billion, although the Prime Minister has previously said it would “only cost about £15 billion”.
But Matheson told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “It’s not a priority for Scotland, nor for Northern Ireland. I’ve just discussed the matter with Nichola Mallon, who is the minister for infrastructure in Northern Ireland last night, and she reiterated the point it is not a priority for Northern Ireland.
“It’s in my interest to have good transport connectivity with other parts of the UK. But it has to be taken forward in a planned, managed basis, recognising the distinctive nature of the decision-making process in Scotland, as it is in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than it being dictated by ministers in London, who are very remote from our communities and don’t understand the nature of those communities.”