If you’ve been keeping up with the latest shenanigans from what we must currently call the British government, you might have heard that Boris Johnson would like a bridge to France.
Ignoring his desire to pull the country as far away from the European continent as he can in every sense except geography (at least, for now), this isn’t the first time somebody has proposed that the Isles be linked to France by sea. About a decade ago, the Channel Island of Jersey (New Jersey’s estranged parent) saw the prospect of a fixed-link between the European mainland and a British island to be a real possibility.
The scheme originally arose as a proposal from the former president of the island’s Chamber of Commerce, Peter Walsh. A 16-mile bridge would have linked the island with northern Normandy, most likely ending at one of two Normandy communes; Blainville-sur-Mer or Granville. Walsh even went so far as to write to then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with the Élysée Palace writing back with positive thoughts on the matter.
The Danish-Swedish Øresund Bridge takes much of the credit in terms of inspiration. Opened in 2000, it connects the Danish Capital of Copenhagen with the Swedish city of Malmö, the latter of which has since undergone significant growth. With Øresund as a template, its backers envisaged that the bridge would be able to function as an offshore energy farm that would generate power from both wind and tide. In total, it was estimated that the bridge would coast around £1bn (just under £1.2bn today).
This in turn prompted meetings between Jersey’s environment minister and representatives from Sund & Bælt, the company responsible for the construction of the Øresund. Further assessments were set to be conducted later. Two solutions were considered: either a tunnel link, or a full-on bridge.
And after that? Nothing. The project never got off the ground. No real effort has been made since 2009, thanks to the global economic crisis and a financial black hole, alongside general skepticism from most of the island. To inflict further damage, one of the plan’s most notable proponents, the then-assistant minister for planning Robert Duhamel, lost his seat in the 2014 elections, thus muting any chance for it in Jersey’s States Assembly (its equivalent of the UK Parliament).
It’s doubtful that the bridge would have been able to replicate the economic benefits that the Øresund Bridge has brought to Denmark and Sweden. Whilst Jersey is an offshore financial centre, and carries with it a hefty GDP per capita, a connection to a town such as Granville would be unlikely to merit a great deal of economic benefits. Granville’s economy is primarily based around its port and fishing, whilst Jersey is far more services-driven: as an autonomous jurisdiction that allows it to avoid the fiscal regulations in place in the UK and France, the island specialises in financial and legal services and offshore banking. Its only real exports are cows, potatoes and Superman.
But a bridge might have helped relieve the island’s population pressure. With around 100,000 people spread out over 35 square miles, Jersey is the fifteenth most densely-populated region in the world, and that density looks likely to grow. The bridge would have created closer links between the Jersey and French populations, thereby providing a greater range of options to those working in the island – and potentially dilute the astronomically high house prices.
The energy production elements of the plan would have been plausible, too. Reports published by the States of Jersey from that period demonstrate a strong potential for harnessing tidal power, whilst wind power has long been an idea pursued, but never realised, in the region.
So what does a decade-old concept have to do with Boris Johnson, aside from serve as a bit of niche history? Simple: it’s the Customs Union, stupid. Whilst the Channel Islands are not themselves members of the European Union or the Single Market, they are part of the Customs Union. Their membership hinges entirely on Protocol 3 in Article 355(c) of the UK’s 1972 ascension treaty.
Unlike Gibraltar, the Crown Dependencies – the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – were never afforded a vote on Brexit in the first place. Nor has there been a great deal of debate on their futures. The only substantial discussion of their future was a House of Lords Report from March last year, highlighting the need for them to be recognised in the negotiations. Since then, it’s been radio silence from Westminster.
It’s now been ten months since Article 50 was triggered, and the Dependencies are still effectively in the dark about the consequences of the 2016 Referendum.
For these and many other reasons, it seems that Jersey’s Bridge is unlikely to happen. But this is also something it has in common with Boris Johnson’s Garden Bridge. Or his Channel Bridge. Or his ambitions to become Prime Minister.