UK Politics

Government has 'no plans' for royal yacht for Brexit trade talks

Britannia in Hong Kong, 1953 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997

There are "no plans" to commission a royal yacht to spearhead the UK's post-Brexit trade talks, a minister says.

Mark Garnier said he would welcome a costed business proposal but it was "very unlikely" taxpayers' money would be spent investigating the scheme.

Several Tory MPs have called for a new, publicly-owned yacht or for the last one, Britannia, to be brought back.

Mr Garnier ruled out recommissioning Britannia, which was taken out of service in 1997.

"Clearly it's well past its active life," he said.

The old yacht, used to transport the royal family and to promote UK trade and industry, was turned into a floating tourist attraction in Leith, Edinburgh.

Conservative MP Jake Berry, who has led the royal yacht campaign in Parliament, secured a debate on his plan in Westminster Hall.

"I believe if Brexit is going to mean successful Brexit, it should also mean the return of our royal yacht," he said.

Royal Yacht Britannia

Image caption The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are piped aboard Britannia for the last time in 1997
  • The 83rd royal yacht was commissioned in 1952
  • It travelled around world carrying the royal family on overseas visits
  • It went on to undertake 968 official visits, including the handover of Hong Kong, and received guests including Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and four US presidents
  • It was also seen as an asset in Britain's efforts to forge diplomatic and trade links
  • Since being decommissioned, it has been moored in the Port of Leith, and maintained by the Royal Britannia Trust, where it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year

Could Brexit bring back the Royal Yacht?

Mr Berry said no public funds should be committed to the project, saying private financing should be sought.

He said his preferred option would be a new yacht, rather than bringing back the old one, saying it would be built in Britain and would be "a thoroughly modern ship, reflecting a modern nation and in fact a modern monarchy which is willing and able to serve Britain across the globe".

Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said seeing the Queen's sadness at the decommissioning of Britannia in 1997 was "one of the darker moments of my political life".

He added: "Brexit makes the building of a new royal yacht not a luxury but a must-have."

'Hard facts'

Sir Gerald said UK trade negotiators would be taken more seriously by their foreign counterparts if they arrived in a "brand new symbol of our newly reasserted national sovereignty", which he said would be "a statement of our national intent".

He said the yacht should be operated by Royal Navy personnel, with the costs this created split between the defence, business, foreign and international development departments.

But the SNP's Deirdre Brock dismissed the plan as a "wistful throwback", saying disadvantaged people were being "left to go cold and hungry", but "we will all be paying for what must seem to them like a new pleasure cruiser for the royal family".

Labour's shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the government should be focusing on the economic impact of Brexit, not "playing with toy boats as virility symbols".

Responding for the government, Mr Garnier, the international trade minister, said Britannia "was and is an iconic symbol".

No business case has been put forward by supporters of the plan, he said, saying the government would welcome one.

But he cast doubt on the trade benefits of the scheme, saying there was no conclusive evidence trade deals that were signed on board Britannia would not have been signed elsewhere.

Mr Garnier said there were "hard facts which stand in the way of a new yacht" - including the likely £120m cost and the need to fund its operation and maintenance.

"We have to be clear the government has no plans and has had no plans to commission a new royal yacht, and as such it is very, very unlikely indeed that the government will use taxpayers' money to fund a royal commission or an investigation into whether we could commission a new royal yacht," he added.