The UK Government remains "excited" by the potential to build a bridge or tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland despite public finances taking a hammering during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson first expressed his support for the grand plan last year and later ordered civil servants to investigate whether it would be achievable to create a fixed link from Portpatrick to Larne.

Critics have dismissed the proposal as a "vanity project" and claim the cost of bridging the 20 mile-long North Channel - a busy shipping lane known for rough seas - would be astronomical.

The Scottish Government said it had not undertaken any feasibility studies on creating a fixed link to Ulster and had no plans to do so.

There has been little talk of a bridge since ministers focused their attentions on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, but a UK Government source told the Record there was still enthusiasm for the scheme at the highest levels.

“This is a hugely exciting idea which could boost the economies of both Scotland and Northern Ireland," they said.

"As the Prime Minister has made clear, improving connectivity across all parts of the UK is something this Government really wants to focus on.”

While Westminster would be able to push ahead with such a project without the support of Holyrood, the construction and maintenance of access roads to the Portpatrick side would fall under the remit of the Scottish Government.

Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross last week called for the A75 linking Gretna and Stranraer to be upgraded to dual carriageway.

The road - which is mostly single carriageway and plagued by tailbacks - would become a key access route for a bridge or tunnel to Northern Ireland.

A UK Government spokesman said: “Our focus is creating a better connected United Kingdom, which is why we will carry out a review to look at how best to improve road, rail, air and sea links between all parts of the UK.”

A spokesman for Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government's transport secretary, said: " We strongly believe that if £20 billion is available for investment in infrastructure in  Scotland and Northern Ireland that rather than indulging with this vanity project, such funding should be made available to our respective governments so it could be better spent on meeting the priorities of the people we represent.

“The Scottish Government has not investigated or undertaken any feasibility for a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland and has no current plans to do so.

“Transport infrastructure investment should focus on projects that improve lives, boost our economy, support communities and work towards Net Zero.

"That is how we are planning Scotland’s future transport infrastructure investment and are doing so through the second Strategic Transport Projects Review.”