Theresa May has not seen any plans for a bridge from Britain to France despite Boris Johnson’s desire for a new fixed link across the English Channel, Downing Street said.
Number 10 appeared to cool on the Foreign Secretary’s idea after it was greeted with scepticism by the UK’s shipping and haulage industries.
Mr Johnson raised the prospect of a second crossing to link the UK to mainland Europe following a top-level summit attended by the Prime Minister and French president Emmanuel Macron at Sandhurst on Thursday.
Mrs May hailed the meeting as a sign of the “entente chaleureuse” – or “warm relationship” – between the two countries as they prepare for Brexit.
It was agreed to establish a new panel of experts to look at major joint projects.
But asked if the PM supports a new bridge, a Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “I haven’t seen any plans on that.”
He added: “What was agreed yesterday, and I think that’s what the Foreign Secretary tweeted about as well, is a panel of experts who will look at major projects together including infrastructure.”
The spokesman could not provide details of who would sit on the infrastructure panel or what it would look at.
He said Mr Johnson was doing an “excellent job”.
Experts have insisted a bridge is “entirely feasible”, possibly with a stretch of tunnel in the middle to avoid having an impact on one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
But trade body the UK Chamber of Shipping said in a tweet: “Building a huge concrete structure in the middle of the world’s busiest shipping lane might come with some challenges.”
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the costs and practical implications of a bridge across the Channel would be “enormous” and that it would be better to spend money improving the UK’s “crumbling” roads and opening more lorry parks.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “The Channel Tunnel and the ferry routes are working well within capacity, so it makes no sense to commit huge amounts of taxpayers’ money in an uncertain economic climate to a costly bridge project that we don’t need.”
Mr Johnson said “good connections” were important to the UK-France relationship and raised the idea that the Channel Tunnel should be regarded as merely “a first step” in the physical links uniting them.
He is understood to want a new fixed link between the UK and France and believes “it’s crazy that two of the biggest economies in the world are connected by one railway line when they are only 20 miles apart”.
Sources close to Mr Johnson claimed the French President was enthusiastic about the idea of a new link.
But shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry tweeted: “I ignored this earlier because I assumed it wasn’t real. Apparently it is. I mean … who are these clowns claiming to run our country?”
Bridge designer Ian Firth, a past president of the Institution of Structural Engineers, said a bridge over the Channel was not as far-fetched as it may seem.
Mr Firth told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is entirely feasible. Before the Tunnel was built there were bridge options being looked at.
“There are bridges of a similar – if not quite the same – scale elsewhere.
“It would be a huge undertaking, but it would be absolutely possible, and shipping impact issues could be dealt with.”
The technical editor of New Civil Engineer magazine, Dave Parker, told the programme that problems with shipping could be avoided by building artificial islands in the Channel, linked to the shore by viaduct and joined to one another by a tunnel. The islands could become venues for attractions like hotels, casinos and duty-free shops, he suggested.
Mr Johnson’s bridge proposal is the latest in a succession of grandiose projects which he has championed.
His call for a “Boris Island” airport in the Thames Estuary was rejected by an inquiry looking into the expansion of air capacity in the South East, and plans for a garden bridge in central London were dumped by his successor as mayor, Sadiq Khan, on value-for-money grounds.
The Emirates cable car linking north and south London near the former Millennium Dome did get built, but has faced criticism over limited passenger numbers.
Dover Tory MP Charlie Elphicke said: “Boris is right. We absolutely must invest in infrastructure to keep trade flowing between Britain and France.
“Let’s start by dualling the A2 to Dover, building the Lower Thames Crossing and lorry parks on the M20. Surely it’s not a bridge too far for the Government to invest in Kent?”
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