THE Scottish Government has been branded “pathetic” for not engaging in the UK Government’s commissioned review into improving transport links across the UK, which will include looking at the possibility of building a tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The denunciation came from Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, who has described the Union Tunnel idea as “fantastic” and had called for a feasibility study into it from the Union Connectivity Review, which is being conducted by Sir Peter Hendy, the Chairman of Network Rail.

During Scottish Questions in the House of Commons, John Lamont, the Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, highlighted how cross-border transport routes were vital for his constituents and wanted to see the Borders Railway extended as well as improvements to the A1.

He asked Mr Jack: “Does he share my frustration and shock that the SNP Scottish Government are failing to engage with and support the connectivity review, which could be an opportunity to accelerate these two projects?”

The Secretary of State replied: “I share his frustration, I really do. This review is part of our levelling-up agenda to improve the national infrastructure and create jobs and prosperity and it is pathetic of the Scottish nationalist Government not to have engaged just because it is a ‘Union’ connectivity review.”

But Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity said: “I spoke to Sir Peter Hendy and Grant Shapps and again made clear that transport infrastructure is a devolved matter and the Union Connectivity Review was established without any discussion and consultation with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."

He went on: “We will always seek to engage constructively with the UK Government but never in a way that undermines the devolution settlement. This review is a systematic attack on the Scottish Parliament’s powers, a power-grab that fundamentally undermines  devolution."

Mr Matheson made clear Edinburgh already hade a robust process for evidencing future transport infrastructure investment in Scotland, STPR2.

“What Scotland really needs now is an infrastructure-led economic recovery to deliver new jobs and speed up the transition to net zero, which won’t be possible with the 5% cut to our capital budget in the UK Spending Review for 2021-22.”

He added the Scottish Government would consider Sir Peter's interim report and respond in due course.

Earlier, Mr Shapps, the UK Government’s Transport Secretary, defended the prospect of a “fixed link” between Scotland and Northern Ireland to improve transport connectivity across the UK as his Holyrood counterpart dismissed it as a Boris Johnson “vanity project”.

Sir Peter’s interim report today unveiled a £20 million programme to look at creating a strategic transport network across the four nations of the UK by improving links across air, sea, rail and road.

As part of the review experts have been engaged to look at one particular aspect: building a tunnel or a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This morning, Mr Shapps rejected a claim by Nicola Sturgeon that money could be better spent than on building such a fixed link.

“I understand that it is not the responsibility of the Scottish First Minister to connect the United Kingdom together. The Scottish First Minister doesn’t even believe we should be in a United Kingdom. So, I understand her perspective but I think it is wrong,” declared the Secretary of State.

He went on: “For example, if you live in Northern Ireland, you want to know that you can reliably get the hauliers and lorry drivers in with goods from the mainland of the British Isles.

“Why would you ever be against connecting different parts of our country in a better way? It shouldn’t be a controversial thought at all.”

He added: “What we are talking about here is bridging or tunnelling a distance from here to France where notably we have built a tunnel.”

An estimate for the tunnel has already been calculated at £20 billion.

But, in response, Mr Matheson dismissed the Union Tunnel idea, saying it was “nothing more than a vanity project” for the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly spoken about the prospect of a bridge, even though experts have warned the depth of the Irish Sea and the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems.

But Mr Matheson told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “It’s not a priority for Scotland, nor for Northern Ireland. I’ve just discussed the matter with Nichola Mallon, who is the Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland last night, and she reiterated the point it is not a priority for Northern Ireland.”

He added: “It’s in my interest to have good transport connectivity with other parts of the UK but it has to be taken forward in a planned, managed basis, recognising the distinctive nature of the decision-making process in Scotland, as it is in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than it being dictated by ministers in London, who are very remote from our communities and don’t understand the nature of those communities.”

However, Mr Shapps dismissed suggestions of a Westminster “power-grab,” telling the same programme: “Quite rightly, transport has been an individual matter for the governments in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and that’s fine.

“The only problem is because of that, no-one is really looking at how the different parts of the United Kingdom connect together.

“It’s not a political issue, it’s not about who runs which parts of the United Kingdom, or whether there should be a United Kingdom at all and, obviously, I believe there should be a United Kingdom. But either way, whether you think there should be or shouldn’t, the important thing is that people are able to get about,” added the Transport Secretary.