The government has ruled out plans to recommission the Royal Yacht Britannia or build a new royal yacht to help the UK secure Brexit trade deals.

11 October

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for International Trade, Mark Garnier, has ruled out plans to recommission the Royal Yacht Britannia or build a new royal yacht.

He made the announcement during a debate on the matter in the House of Commons.

Garnier said the existing royal yacht was clearly “well past its active life”, and that “hard facts stand in the way of a new yacht” such as cost and maintenance.

“I am acutely aware that people in this room are firmly behind the proposal (to commission a new yacht), but I make it clear that the Government have no plans, and have had no plans, to commission a new royal yacht,” he told MPs.

“As such, it is very unlikely indeed that we would use taxpayers’ money to fund either a royal commission or an investigation into whether we could commission a new royal yacht,” he said.

The price tag for a new yacht has been put at £120 million.

Over the last few months, a campaign by The Telegraph newspaper to recommission the Royal Yacht Britannia has been gaining momentum.

Those backing it believe the yacht can be used to help the UK secure trade deals in the wake of the vote to leave the EU.

The debate in the House of Commons on 11 October, 2016, was brought by the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, Jake Berry.

He stated that between 1991-1995, the Royal Yacht Britannia brought £3 billion of commercial trade deals to the UK.

Berry also suggested that a new ship could be funded either “through private donations—for example, by giving industry naming rights for certain decks and rooms—through a private finance initiative model or through public fundraising.”

He also suggested that the cost of a new yacht could be spread over all government department and even other Commonwealth countries.

The Conservative MP for Aldershot, Sir Gerald Howarth, stressed that “Brexit makes the building of a new royal yacht not a luxury but a must-have.”

He suggested that as Britain spends £12 billion a year on overseas aid, “a new royal yacht at a modest £120 million would deliver for the British people a statement of our intent post-Brexit and would deliver a return on investment to the British economy.”

However, Garnier stated that the government had not seen a business proposal or a cost-benefit analysis, “so this debate is slightly hypothetical.”

He argued that although the Royal Yacht Britannia presents “an impressive backdrop to the signing of trade and investment deals”, there was “no conclusive evidence” that the deals would not have been signed were it not for the royal yacht.

Ganier stressed there was much more to trade negotiations than the “pomp and splendour of the signing table”.

“Such hard work is central to the Department for International Trade’s responsibility to successfully negotiate trade agreements when we leave the EU in order to secure the UK’s economic future,” added the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.

Since its decommissioning in 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia has become a tourist attraction at the Port of Leith in Edinburgh.

 

20 September

Before being decommissioned in 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia is estimated to have helped secure billions of pounds of trade deals in the 1990s.

MPs, former ministers, business leaders and military figures are now reported to be backing the campaign by The Telegraph newspaper to recommission the vessel.

It is hoped that the yacht can be used to drum up trade deals in the wake of the vote to leave the EU.

The Royal Yacht Britannia is currently a tourist attraction in Edinburgh, moored in the Port of Leith. Earlier this year, it was judged Scotland’s best attraction by Visit Scotland.

Bridge of the Royal Yacht Britannia

The yacht’s bridge. Credit: Dun Deagh

Among those reported to be supporting the campaign to recommission the yacht are the foreign secretary Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary Lord Hague and Lord Heseltine, who was president of the Board of Trade from 1992 to 1995.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Lord Heseltine said it was a mistake not replacing the Royal Yacht Britannia when she was decommissioned.

“She was a symbol of many things about this country we have now not got. It was the wrong decision but I full understood the pressures on the Government of which I was a member. In the internal debate I wanted to replace it,” he told the newspaper.

It is also believed that recommissioning the yacht would also boost links with the Commonwealth.

Drawing room of Royal Yacht Britannia

The yacht’s drawing room. Credit: Dun Deagh

A debate on the matter will be held in Parliament next month, led by the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, Jake Berry.

Two options will be debated – recommissioning the original yacht or building a replica.

The cost of the project will also be examined, with Berry looking at way of raising funds without the use of public money.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was the Queen’s private yacht between 1954 and 1997, and is now looked after by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust.

Part of the National Historic Fleet, the vessel attracts around 300,000 visitors a year.