Boris Johnson Claims Private Companies Will Pay For His New Bridge To France

Ned Simons
(Jack Taylor via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has said his proposed new bridge over the English Channel to connect the United Kingdom and France could be paid for by private companies as he stepped up his campaign for the project.

The foreign secretary said the Channel Tunnel will be “full” within seven years so another link was needed to cope with demand.

“It is a curiosity that two of the most powerful economies in the world are separated by barely 21-miles of water are connected by only one railway line,” he told MPs on Tuesday.

Johnson added he wanted to see a “great, swollen, throbbing umbilicus of trade” between the UK and France in future.

UK Chamber of Shipping, the voice of the British shipping industry, has mocked the plan in the past.

“Building a huge concrete structure in the middle of the world’s busiest shipping lane might come with some challenges,” the organisation said in January when the idea was first floated.

The foreign secretary said when Margaret Thatcher commissioned the Channel Tunnel her “vision” was that it be “entirely privately financed”.

He added there was “no reason why we should not have the same ambition this time”.

The Channel Tunnel was privately financed but the Department for Transport had to step in to guarantee the private company’s debt after it hit problems.

Johnson was responding to Labour’s shadow Foreign Office minister Khalid Mahmood who said the estimated £120bn cost of the bridge could be better spent giving the NHS £350m a week for the next six and a half years.

During the referendum campaign Johnson said Brexit would allow the NHS to receive that extra funding.

Johnson told MPs a “committee of wise people” would be set up by the UK and French governments to look into whether a bridge could be built.

SNP MP Patrick Grady said Brexit could lead to “gridlock” at UK ports. “What is the point of a  20-mile bridge if there is going to be a 20-mile queue waiting to get on to it,” he asked.

But Tory MP James Duddridge said there shold be “more visionary and less mockery” from politicians about Johnson’s plan.

Downing Street has previously said there were “no specific plans” for a bridge to be built over the Channel.

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