Johnson’s ‘dumb’ tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland scrapped under spending review

A tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland and a scheme supporting the unemployed to start their own businesses have fallen victim to a crackdown by Britain’s Treasury as it struggles with self-imposed public spending curbs.

Boris Johnson’s plan to build the “world’s dumbest tunnel” linking Scotland and Northern Ireland – which is estimated to cost at least £15 billion – has been described as “dead” by government officials briefed on spending negotiations ahead of Rishi Sunak’s budget this month. next.

The chancellor gave her cabinet colleagues until Monday evening to finalize their bids for public spending and warned them that he wanted to “put public finances on a sustainable path over the medium term”.

Sunak’s spending review will set the landscape for the public sector until the next elections, as schools, courts, local councils and transportation demand more money after the Covid crisis.

The spending review will deal a major blow to Johnson’s plan to build a 21-mile bridge or tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland. “She’s dead – at least for now,” a government official said.

Johnson saw the tunnel as a way to connect the component parts of the United Kingdom and was particularly keen on connecting Northern Ireland to Great Britain after the Brexit turmoil.

One official said the idea was “ahead of its time” and that the tunnel could become viable in the future of self-driving cars. Current technology requires a ‘very long’ rail tunnel, which requires a shallow gradient.

However, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former senior adviser, said in July: “The prime minister’s only agenda is to buy more trains, buy more buses, get more bikes, and build the world’s stupidest tunnel to Ireland.”

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Johnson has ordered a review of “Union Connection” by Sir Peter Hende, head of Network Rail, which will report on priority schemes before completing a spending review in the October 27 budget.

Mr. Hendy had commissioned a feasibility study on a possible Northern Ireland link; The bridge would have to cross the storm-hit North Channel while the tunnel would have to navigate a wartime munitions dump in the Beaufort Dyke area.

A government spokesperson declined to say whether the connection with Northern Ireland would survive the spending review but “strengthening connectivity across the UK and improving transport infrastructure are at the heart of the ‘settlement’ agenda”.

Another early victim of the Treasury campaign is New Enterprise Allowance, a program launched a decade ago into great fanfare by David Cameron. It has provided grants of more than £1,000 each to around 250,000 people since its inception in 2011.

However, Therese Coffey, Secretary of Work and Pensions, has recommended eliminating it as part of presenting her spending to the Treasury, officials said.

One minister said the decision was part of an effort to focus resources on the most effective plans. But the timing of the plan will raise questions, as the government prepares to end the Covid-19 leave scheme.

The chancellor raised taxes by £12 billion last week to fund additional spending on health and social care. That could mean more money for other departments who fear the NHS will “swallow” scarce resources.

But Sunak said last week that there would be no additional funds available for other departments in addition to the total spending set at the time of the March budget.

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He has argued that departmental spending is set to rise at an annual rate of 4 percent more than inflation, “the largest increase in real terms in departmental public spending of any parliament in this century,” Sunak wrote to fellow ministers.

The only area of ​​evasion in the spending review was that departments might be able to persuade the Treasury to pursue specific spending on Covid-19. Mr Sunak cautioned that this would be considered “only in exceptional circumstances, where reform and efficiencies are not sufficient to fund the core activity”.

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