Tunnel through bullshit: "Boris’ Burrow" and a triumph of (Christopher) Hope over experience

Christopher Hope's 'interesting story' about an undersea tunnel to Ireland is so fantastical that even the Queen of Hearts would find it intolerably unbelievable.

The Telegraph — Britain’s foremost Boris Johson fanzine — excelled itself yesterday with a work of fan fiction so divorced from facts that facts have got full custody of the kids. Written by Christopher ‘Chopper’ Hope, the paper’s Chief Political Correspondent and man whose ‘prefect who steals tuck hampers in a Just William story’ face doesn’t fit with his hard lad nickname, wrote the story headlined 'Boris's Burrow tunnel' to Northern Ireland could get green light.

Could is a powerful word in journalism. It’s an incantation that allows hacks to put forward any old bullshit without really committing to it. Wolves could be introduced to Westminster to hunt MPs on Whitehall. Unicorns could have existed beyond the insane experiments of a bloke with a hot glue gun, some ponies, and some Cornettos. Christopher Hope could be described as a credible journalist and not a stenographer for the government… you get the idea.

Hope’s story — and ‘story’ is the right word here — begins:

An undersea tunnel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland could get the green light as early next month and help unblock trade which has been hit by Brexit tensions by creating the first ever fixed link between all four nations of the United Kingdom.

That’s a Queen of Hearts paragraph: It requires you to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Firstly, Hope wants us to believe that Boris Johnson, a man who spent £53.3 million on a ‘garden bridge’ that never even got to the construction stage while he was Mayor of London is going to get a 31.5-mile tunnel under the sea built, at a vastly under-estimated cost of £10 billion.

Secondly, the proposed route of the undersea boondoggle, from the Scottish town of Stranraer to the Northern Irish port of Larne, would require a big detour around Beaufort’s Dyke, a trench where the UK Ministry of Defence dumped over a million tonnes of munitions, chemical weapons, and nuclear material.

In 1945, 14,500 tonnes of artillery rockets filled with phosgene were dumped there and in 1995 — 40 years later — they started to wash up on the Scottish coast following construction work on the Scotland-Northern Ireland pipeline. In 1986, an underwater explosion at Beaufort’s Dyke was registered as a 2.5 magnitude earthquake.

Thirdly, the comparisons with the Channel Tunnel are bogus. Yes, the Boris Bodge would require a similar length tunnel but the depth that it would need to be put in much deeper. As Zelo Street notes:

…the Channel Tunnel has a maximum depth of 380 feet. That gets it under the deepest water. A tunnel under the Irish Sea would need a maximum depth of at least 600 feet. The Channel Tunnel cost, at 2016 prices, £16 billion. Double that and add a bit more.

Fourthly, the road and rail links on either side of the proposed tunnel aren’t great so the project would require further billions to improve those and justify its existence. Stranraer is not a bustling metropolis. It has a single-track rail line connecting it to Ayr and the road links aren’t up to the job. Across the sea, the Northern Irish railway system uses wider gauge track than the British one and it’s not electrified.

Fifthly, the demand for a multi-billion pound tunnel isn’t there. The ferry traffic in the Channel was vastly more than that across the Irish sea when the Channel Tunnel project was greenlit and that took 30 years to bring to fruition (5 years from when the first spade went into the ground).

Sixthly and finally: Building a tunnel would not remove the invisible border that currently runs across the Irish Sea or remove the need for customs checks. Boris Johnson cannot dig under custom checks like Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in that film he insists on watching every Christmas.

But not one of these concerns matters to Christopher Hope Over Experience. Challenged by Belfast-born BBC broadcaster Andrea Catherwood on his ridiculous claims…

Hope fired back weakly…

It seems he has entirely abandoned the requirement that news should exist in the intersection between ‘interesting’ and ‘true’.

The ‘Boris’ burrow’ name is also a confection of Mr Hope’s creation and it doesn’t work even as a piece of cheeky alliteration. The verb ‘to burrow’ when turned into the noun ‘burrow’ makes it sound like the Prime Minister is a Hobbit in an undersea home, troughing his way through third breakfast. While the idea of Boris Johnson consuming multiple fry-ups is feasible, the tunnel and the tedious nickname are not.

But the ‘Boris’ Burrow’ bunkum is all part of a wider leap of imagination:

Any new connection – possibly dubbed “Boris’s burrow” – would also delight unionists in Northern Ireland who have been outraged at the way the Government has allowed the European Union to impose new checks on ferry cargo heading to the Province. A study by Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail, will say whether a link between Stranraer in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland is workable. It would be the same length as the tunnel under the Channel between England and France.

The mere existence of a study by Sir Peter Hendy — as yet unpublished — was enough for Hope, no doubt prodded by some insistent government sources, to assert that it could be mere weeks before the impossible tunnel gets impossible approval from an impossibly stupid government.

Hope ‘strengthens’ his story by reporting the private enthusiasms of government ministers, including the Prime Minister, that have been dripped into his eager ear by the same government sources that gift him most of his ‘scoops’:

The undersea tunnel has already won the enthusiastic private backing of both Boris Johnson, who first proposed a fixed link across the Irish Sea in 2018, and Scottish secretary Alister Jack.

In an interview with Chopper's Politics podcast, Mr Jack said he favoured a tunnel because "a bridge would be closed for probably 100 days a year with the weather in the Irish Sea" while also dealing with munitions under water.

He said: "My strong inclination would be that he thinks it should be a tunnel because he and I have had conversations about the weather patterns in the Irish Sea and Beaufort's Dyke, and there's a munitions deposit there.”

Mr Jack and Mr Johnson are understood to be “very enthusiastic” about a feasibility study into a fixed link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

What does that all mean? Nothing. It’s devoid of meaning, beyond the burbling of a pair of bumptious bloviating politicians who want a project to slap their name on and have applied the same amount of thinking a five-year-old does to developing a teetering tower of Duplo.

As if Hope’s claims were not desperate enough, he then ropes in DUP MP Sammy Wilson — a man with the complexion and mental acuity of a chip-shop saveloy — for a quote:

On Saturday night DUP MP Sammy Wilson, whose seat East Antrim would host the Northern Ireland end of the tunnel, said: “This kind of project would at least give people in Northern Ireland the belief that the Government was prepared to put in infrastructure and spend money to make sure that we are physically connected.

“The important thing is to make sure that we are economically and constitutionally connected – that is far more important than a physical connection. But nevertheless symbolically it would be very important to hear this message.”

Entirely accidentally, Wilson reveals why the tremendously silly tunnel is even being discussed — “… symbolically it would be very important to hear this message.” That’s all this is about: Symbolism.

Boris Johnson imagines himself as a Great Man of History and, in turn, thinks that to be such a figure he needs to build big things upon which his name can be daubed, preferably in a very garish font. The Daily Telegraph engaged as it is in an endless culture war loves that symbolism.

It doesn’t matter to The Daily Telegraph or Christopher Hope, in particular, whether the tunnel can or will happen; it’s enough that it’s an “interesting story” and that tunnel is a symbol of Great British Ideas and that the very existence of the story will anger all the right people. You know, people like engineers, transport planners, and those who haven’t had their brains so boiled by Brexit that facts can no longer live safely inside them.