Belfast Telegraph

Bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland wasn't my idea: Coveney

Our artist’s impression of the bridge
Our artist’s impression of the bridge
Boris Johnson and Simon Coveney

By Philip Ryan

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has become embroiled in a bizarre war of words with former UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over whose idea it was to build a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Speaking ahead of a major business and leadership summit in Dublin this week, Mr Johnson told the Sunday Independent the Tanaiste came to him with the idea of building a 35km-long bridge across the Irish Sea.

The Conservative Party member said Mr Coveney's proposal for a bridge was "brave and right" and should be "seriously examined".

Mr Johnson said: "When I was foreign secretary, my Irish counterpart Simon Coveney came into my office and said 'let's build a bridge' - and he wasn't being metaphorical. He was entirely serious."

Yesterday, Mr Coveney dismissed the claim and insisted he was focused on Brexit negotiations.

"There are 82 days to go to Brexit and we would not allow ourselves to get distracted by a bridge," he told the Sunday Independent.

"In all my interactions with Boris I have made clear that protecting peace in Ireland and preventing a hard Border is my priority," he added.

The Tanaiste said a "physical bridge is an engineering challenge for the future" and insisted he was focused on protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

A source close to the Tanaiste said Mr Johnson's version of events was "complete nonsense".

The source said the only time a bridge was discussed in negotiations with Mr Johnson was when the then Foreign Secretary mentioned it in passing prior to a meeting with Mr Coveney in Dublin.

Mr Johnson has spoken several times in favour of building a bridge from Portpatrick in Scotland, to either Larne or Bangor.

In comments which were made ahead of his highly anticipated appearance at the Pendulum Summit in Dublin's Convention Centre, Mr Johnson said: "The friendship and partnership between the UK and Ireland is so huge - and growing - that the day is surely coming when we should build a fixed link of some kind."

He said that the UK buys "prodigious quantities of Irish drink" and eats "vast quantities of Irish cheddar cheese" while also depending on "Irish talent in every walk of British life".

He added: "If we get Brexit right then I have no doubt that we can not only protect that trade but watch it grow at pace."

Boris Johnson will be interviewed by the RTE broadcaster Bryan Dobson at the Pendulum Summit on Thursday.

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