This post first appeared in the Spectator’s Evening Blend email, a free round-up and analysis of each day’s politics. Sign up for free here.
Why is Boris Johnson quite so keen on improbable-sounding bridges? The Foreign Secretary became obsessed with the idea of a ‘garden bridge’ across the river Thames when he was Mayor, a project that was cancelled by his successor Sadiq Khan after it became clear that public money would be needed to build the structure, which would then not always be open to the public. Unabashed, Boris is now suggesting something much bigger and more eye-catching: a bridge across the Channel to France.
Johnson was talking about major infrastructure projects when he suggested the bridge, which is apparently technically possible. But it is being treated as politically laughable, with Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry claiming she thought Boris was having us on when he made the suggestion, and Home Secretary Amber Rudd telling reporters that ‘I think I’m safe saying that I am not a huge fan of this latest proposal’.
So why bother banging on about bridges? Well, aside from Johnson’s love of eye-catching infrastructure projects (remember the Boris Island airport?), this also rather fits into the theme of everyone trying to show that Britain will still be friends with European countries post-Brexit. It’s just that Boris has a better eye for what would make a better symbol of that kind of friendship than most. It doesn’t really matter if the bridge never gets built, just like the garden bridge and the Boris Island airport: everyone is talking about it now, and even if they are ridiculing the Foreign Secretary, they are passing on the basic idea that he wants closer ties with Britain’s neighbours which don’t involve the EU. It’s like a big concrete version of the former Mayor’s ‘dead cat’ strategy, whereby someone changes the political debate from something uncomfortable by throwing another thing into discussion which is impossible to ignore and therefore distracts people. I apologise in advance if Boris’s next intervention is a giant concrete cat.