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19 January 2018

The case for Boris Johnson’s bridge to France is also the case for staying in the single market

It would be “easier, and less expensive to just move France closer”.

By Stephen Bush

He’s at it again. Boris Johnson has an eye-catching proposal that has him back in the headlines: a road bridge between the United Kingdom and France.

As far as making a splash goes it’s mission accomplished for the Foreign Secretary: the wheeze gets a sympathetic write-up in the Telegraph and a shoeing in the Times. The latter has a vicious takedown of the whole idea from Alan Dunlop, an architect and professor at the University of Liverpool, who says it would “be easier, and less expensive to just move France closer”. But Ian Firth, former president of the Institution of Structural Engineers says the project is “entirely feasible”.

As far as the idea goes, several Conservative MPs are adding together “a lot of media chatter about leadership contenders not called Boris Johnson” and “an eye-catching idea floated by Boris Johnson” and drawing the inevitable conclusion.

But put the question of Johnson’s ambitions for a moment and however you may feel about him to one side for a moment: he’s got a point. One reason why the idea of a link between the United Kingdom and France has been floated on and off since the 1860s is because it’s in our economic and political interests to have a close, barrier free-relationship with our nearest continental neighbour, with whom we share a common history and a set of values. That’s one reason why Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May announced a package of measures co-operating between the two nations.

Now you can rightly point out that the case for the bridge is also the case for not walking away from the single market. But that doesn’t mean that a second tunnel or an above-ground road link between the United Kingdom and France is a bad idea: it’s just that making sure there aren’t barriers between trade between the two due to customs or regulatory divergence is an even better one.

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