AAll the clocks on the Royal Yacht Britannia, now moored next to the blue parking lot of the Ocean Terminal shopping center in Leith, near Edinburgh, show the same time: 3:01 p.m. It was then, on December 11, 1997, that the Queen stepped off the ship for the last time, famously weeping as a group from the Royal Navy bade farewell to the soon-to-be-launched ship. cocoon.
No one, not even the Queen herself, could seriously expect to see another royal yacht one day. But 25 years later, here we are. As the country recovered from a temperature emergency and amid an escalating cost of living on Thursday, Liz Truss sought to bolster her case to be Britain’s next prime minister by pledging to support another large national ship.
“I support the idea of promoting our trade worldwide,” she said. told reporters in Peterborough. However – new broom and all that – she wouldn’t do it the Boris Johnson way. Rather than expect taxpayers to increase the projected £200m cost, “what I would look for is to invest in a yacht, looking to the private sector to help make it financially viable”. Sponsors with nine-figure marketing budgets are following this path.
What’s in the thought of a big British ship that excites people so much? The Daily Telegraph has been campaigning for one since 2016, not coincidentally the same year the paper and its then columnist helped secure Brexit. Johnson announced last May that a new “national flagship” would indeed be built, “reflecting the UK’s emerging status as a major independent maritime trading nation”.
The Ministry of Defence, with a backlog of £16billion in its capital budget, however, is not keen to pay the tab. Truss’ rival Rishi Sunak, while chancellor, was also at odds with Johnson on the matter, with a source telling The Sunday Times last year there was ‘a huge row’ over funding; another described the yacht’s plans as “a complete and absolute shitshow”.
The British royal family has had its own yacht since 1660 when Charles II, newly restored to the throne of England, purchased the small collier on which he had fled to France a decade earlier, shamelessly naming it HMY Royal Escape. Eighty-two ships later, Britannia was launched in 1953 with a bottle of “Empire wine” – a ration-friendly champagne substitute.
The new Queen and her husband were closely involved in its design, which made it ‘rather special’, the Duke told an interviewer in 1995: ‘All the other places we live in had been built by predecessors’ . Britannia was used extensively by the Royal Family and on almost 1000 state visits, but became increasingly expensive to maintain and Tony Blair made the decision in 1997 not to return it to service, a decision ( unlike others) which he later regretted.
Today, however, it is not clear who really wants a yacht. Not the audience – YouGov only found 29% in favor Last year. Not the Royal Family, who were unhappy with the plan to name a new ship after the Duke of Edinburgh and called it “not something we asked for”.
Senior military officials aren’t enthusiastic either, including R Adm Chris Parry, a former senior navy commander (“Frankly, the narrative on this has been really poor. And the designs I’ve seen – I wouldn’t go to sea in that”) And many Tories also agree with Lord (Ken) Clarke who told the BBC it was “stupid populist nonsense”.
Six weeks before Tory members choose Britain as Prime Minister, however, Truss knows that talking about a yacht while saying she wants to fund it privately ‘allows her to commit to backing the idea without it ever happening,” as Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, Noted.
Sunak, meanwhile, has yet to be drawn on his plans for the yacht if he wins, although as some have observed, if need be, the multi-millionaire could comfortably fund it himself.