According to Channel 4:

The DUP, the party supporting the Conservatives in Parliament, believes a bridge [between Scotland and Northern Ireland] could break the Brexit impasse by removing the need for a border in the Irish Sea.

Is there an explanation of how building such a bridge would remove any need for a border in the Irish sea?

Bemused footnote:

I want to know the chain of logical reasoning that the alleged authors of this statement advance in support of it. This is regardless of how stupid or repellent (or otherwise) you or I may think it or them to be.

The question is not whether in someone's opinion or professional assessment, there are engineering, financial, political or other obstacles that throw doubt on whether a bridge can actually be built, should be built or will be built. That might be an interesting discussion but it isn't what I am looking for.

In my opinion, heated political discussion or aspersion-slinging (justified or not) is not what stackexchange websites are good at or intended for. I might agree that party X or party Y are poor, base, rascally, cheating lack-linen mates but reading people throwing epithets abouts is not something I find especially clarifying.

I come seeking enlightenment (what do they mean), not heat (are they idiots).

  • 24
    No, of course it doesn't. It's also an idea that's been repeatedly rejected as infeasible.
    – pjc50
    Sep 11, 2019 at 16:15
  • 12
    You could then have a border between Scotland and England instead.
    – chirlu
    Sep 11, 2019 at 16:19
  • 4
    @pjc50, if one assumes that the Republic of Ireland stays in the EU27 common market, that there is no hard border in Ireland, and that England is out of the EU27 common market, the answers are unpalatable for an United Kingdom.
    – o.m.
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:20
  • 10
    If it's not named after Fionn mac Cumhaill, I don't want to hear about it. Sep 11, 2019 at 20:09
  • 16
    How would adding a point-of-entry fix the problems for a different point-of-entry? There would still be a border between Ireland and the mainland, bridge or no bridge. What's the next idea, fill up the sea with sand?
    – Mast
    Sep 12, 2019 at 6:35

3 Answers 3


The "border in the Irish Sea" refers to a regulatory border, namely a customs border, that would require customs inspections of vehicles traveling between Northern Ireland and rest of the United Kingdom. More specifically, it refers to a plan to have Northern Ireland be a separate customs territory from the rest of the UK so it can remain in the EU customs union, thereby being in customs union with the Republic of Ireland. This would prevent the introduction of customs controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Creating a new mode of transportation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, including a bridge allowing people to drive vehicles from one place to another without putting them on a ferry, would change none of that. Bridges cross customs borders all over the world. When they do, there are customs posts at one end or both. If Northern Ireland becomes a separate customs territory from the rest of the UK, there will need to be customs controls on ships and aircraft traveling between them, as well as on any bridge that might be built.

  • 7
    The main change would be that instead of having a border in the Irish Sea, you would have a border on the Irish Bridge.
    – Evargalo
    Sep 11, 2019 at 20:03
  • 23
    @Evargalo well, not "instead of," but "in addition to": I doubt the bridge would replace all ferry traffic; it probably wouldn't replace much other sea cargo traffic. Air traffic would probably see little change as well.
    – phoog
    Sep 11, 2019 at 20:22
  • 1
    Exactly this. It is absurd to suggest that the method you use to cross a border (bridge, tunnel, road, ship, plane, whatever) would affect the customs regulations on either side. [Pedants note: Aside from any marketing concessions, like airport duty-free] Sep 12, 2019 at 6:08
  • 1
    @terdon The main point of both passages, though, seems to be that the proposed customs arrangement is antithetical to the goal of forging closer ties between NI and Scotland, not that the bridge (nor closer association more generally) would eliminate the need for customs controls.
    – phoog
    Sep 12, 2019 at 12:40

I'm not sure the DUP has actually said something like that. Channel4 may have misinterpreted the following not-so-recent statement of Paul Girvan, MP for South Antrim and DUP transport spokesperson:

As we leave the European Union, the DUP has been clear that there should be no border erected down the Irish Sea. Instead of placing barriers between parts of the United Kingdom we should be building bridges.

According to the same source, the DUP did have a feasibility study for the bridge across the North Channel in its 2015 general election manifesto. (Which Boris Johnson is now fulfilling, in that respect.)

I read that as the DUP doesn't want an Irish Sea border and they want a bridge (to Scotland), i.e. the bridge is the cherry on the cake, not a mitigating/consolation thingy.

Likewise, Arlene Foster was quoted by the BBC saying

"Whilst some foolishly attempt to use Brexit to build a border between Scotland and Northern Ireland, we are more progressive, we want to build a bridge", she said.

Now, it is possible that Boris Johnson may have obtained some concessions from the DUP in return for his support for the feasibility study for the bridge... but I haven't been able to find any confirmation or details on that. Conceivably, such concessions could be related to Brexit terms, but they could also relate to reopening Stormont, which Johnson is trying to do in order to avoid direct rule in case of a no-deal Brexit.

Since I wrote the above, there have been more contradictory news regarding the DUP [not really] making concessions recently; news of today:

A front page article in Friday’s Times newspaper said the DUP has agreed to shift its red lines on Brexit, saying it could accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules post-Brexit as part of a new deal to replace the Irish backstop.

The paper claimed the DUP, the biggest party in Northern Ireland, had also privately said it would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, something it had previously said was unacceptable since it would separate Northern Ireland politically and economically from the mainland.

The Times, citing unidentified sources, wrote that, in return for such concessions, Brussels would abandon its insistence on Northern Ireland remaining in a customs union with the EU.

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted that, as previously indicated, any moves which did make Northern Ireland different from the rest of the UK would be unacceptable to the party.

“UK must leave as one nation. We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK,” Mrs Foster tweeted [today].

“We will not support any arrangements that create a barrier to East West trade.”

She added: “Anonymous sources lead to nonsense stories.”

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, also rejected reports that the party was softening its stance, but said he had detected a different tone in talks between London and Dublin.

  • 20
    Boris Johnson has already failed to build a footbridge over the Thames. Let's not expect his government to build a bridge across the Irish Sea successfully.
    – Graham
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:18
  • 10
    Clearly both of those quotes are referring to metaphorical bridges, not physical ones. "Bulding bridges" between the two sides in NI is a very common theme, and a cynic would say that politics in NI spends far more time talking about such things, than doing anything useful.
    – MikeB
    Sep 12, 2019 at 12:56
  • 7
    @MikeBrockington while "building bridges" is a common metaphor, "building a bridge" is not. Furthermore, Foster is clearly in support of building an "actual" bridge, and in context it's clear that Girvan is also in favor of a literal bridge. Do read the articles for the context, where it is on the contrary clear that both of those quotations refer to physical bridges, not metaphorical.
    – phoog
    Sep 12, 2019 at 14:10

No it couldn't (and that's neglecting the fact that any hypothetical bridge couldn't even be built in time, in unprecedented 1000ft deep water and somehow clearing the 1.5 million tons of WWII munitions that were dumped somewhere in the Beaufort Dyke, in unmarked locations. But those aren't even the relevant issues, they don't magically solve the legal issues or nullify the UK's 1998 Belfast Agreement treaty obligations to Ireland viz. the border, which is what this piece of pre-election theatre is dancing around).

This is just a pre-election soundbite, not a rational engineering proposal, no more than The Wizard of Oz is a treatise about urban design. For a rebuttal of the technical requirements and £20++ bn estimate, see https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2018/10/08/news/bridge-to-scotland-about-as-feasible-as-building-a-bridge-to-the-moon--1453026/ ("In total the bridge would require 54 towers, of heights never achieved anywhere in the world.")

  • You have to stop seeing Boris Johnson as a politician, and start seeing him as an unprincipled conman in a tight spot, whose career is living on borrowed time, temporarily pandering to his junior coalition partner (DUP). He only needs people to believe this until an October/November 2019 election. Other billion-pound promises he made recently include extra NHS funding and other unsustainable election-year borrowing. (By the way, the pledges for extra NHS funding implicitly prove he was lying with his Sept 2017 claim that Brexit would somehow give the UK an extra £350m a week funding which could be spent on the NHS).
  • The DUP (and their Eurosceptic allies in the Tory party) want to create "facts on the ground" (to borrow the American phrase used about Iraq) to allow the UK to undermine and eventually violate the Belfast Agreement in the near future by reimposing NI-RoI border controls (both customs and possibly also immigration). But a bridge cannot undo that treaty.
  • The current Cons-DUP coalition has been throwing billions in slush funds at the DUP and turning a blind eye to their misdeeds since the DUP briefly gained the balance-of-power in former PM Theresa May's disastrous self-sabotaging 2017 election which wiped out her majority. (Read about Arlene Foster's involvement in the £0.5bn Cash-for-Ash scandal, to pick one example, or Ian Paisley Jr's accepting undisclosed compensation for advocacy on behalf of the human-rights-abusing Sri Lankan govt, in breach of parliamentary rules). Oh and of course the DUP collapsed the Stormont parliament, which is by itself a blatant breach of the Belfast Agreement and a signpost of their intentions. Expect the pandering to end the day the DUP stops holding the likely balance of power in Westminster, presumably Nov 2019. (Yes technically that already happened with the Sept 4 expulsions of 21 Remain Conservative MPs, including Churchill’s grandson).
  • Asking the electorate to close their eyes and wish the Belfast Agreement away would be about as successful as hypothetical bridge (and infinitely cheaper).
  • 1
    It seems that any election will be in November at the earliest.
    – phoog
    Sep 12, 2019 at 5:17
  • 3
    In fairness the DUP stopped holding the balance of power on 3rd September when 21 Tory MPs were sacked. Though strategically they need to be kept sweet until it becomes clear they have no further use.
    – Jontia
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:02
  • 5
    "and somehow clearing the 1.5 million tons of WWII munitions that were dumped in the Beaufort Dyke" I can think of one way of doing this. Not sure it solves the health and safety problems though :-D
    – user19831
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:25
  • Also, the shortest span between Scotland and Northern Ireland is around 13 miles (measuring from around Cambeltown to Ballycastle). Such a bridge would be the longest (over water) in Europe by far (it would be almost 3 times the length of the Öresund between Denmark and Sweden). No small undertaking, and certainly not feasible before the end of October. That kind of thing would take years... Sep 12, 2019 at 17:02
  • 2
    @DarrelHoffman It's just bridge building. Slap a bit of concrete and steel together and put a road on it, easy as pie. That should take 2 weeks tops to design and build.
    – JMac
    Sep 12, 2019 at 19:49

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