Watch: Minister says £200m new 'royal yacht' is best way to get new trade deals
A government minister has insisted plans to spend £200m on a successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia are "exactly the way we should go on trade missions".
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the new royal yacht national flagship is "a good idea", despite designs for the ship being compared to a "1950s fishing trawler".
The yacht is expected to sail across the world and be used to promote British trade and interests overseas – including by hosting meetings.
Discussing the proposals with Sky News, Kwarteng said: "I think it is a good idea actually," but added that there was still discussion in government over the plans because "it's a huge amount of money".
He said: "What it does is it represents Britain – it is a symbol of Britain and if you are going on trade missions, that is exactly the way we would drive trade."
He added: "We would only look at spending that sort of money if we felt we could get a return on something as symbolic as that."
The MP for Spelthorne was quickly criticised on social media, with political commentator Peter Stefanovic tweeting: "If we are going on trade missions it’s a good idea to have a £200m Royal Yacht says business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng who voted against free school meals for children.
"Welcome to Boris Johnson’s 'golden age'."
A Downing Street spokesperson said the ship will be paid for from the Ministry of Defence’s budget.
The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “This new national flagship will boost British trade and drive investment into the economy.
“The procurement process, which is being done through the MoD, will reflect its wide-ranging use and so it will be funded through the MoD, as set out previously.”
The No 10 spokesman declined to comment on how the MoD could afford a yacht costing a reported £200m given its own equipment budget black hole of £17bn.
Pressed on reports the vessel could be classified as a “warship” and have guns attached, thes spokesman said: “We will set out the exact detail in due course but this is a trade ship, it is not a military vessel.”
Asked whether that meant it would not be a warship, he replied: “That’s correct.”
Why is the project controversial?
The vessel is to be named after Prince Philip, according to reports. The Duke of Edinburgh was Lord High Admiral from 2011 until his death earlier this year, and served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. However, the idea of the yacht was apparently rejected within royal circles.
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A senior royal source told The Times it was considered “too grand” a symbol for use by the monarchy in the modern age.
“It is not something we have asked for,” the source added. The idea is understood not to have won the support of the Queen.
Opposition politicians have also criticised the cost of the project, with shadow Treasury chief secretary Bridget Phillipson saying: "Right now our country faces huge challenges, and there's no sign the government has a plan for the recovery.
"We want to see public money used for targeted investment in a green economic recovery, resources for our NHS, and supporting families to succeed."
Phillips criticised the "very, very small fry and piecemeal" action plan in the report, including its promise that by the end of the current Parliament – May 2024 at the latest – no victim of rape will be left without their phone for more than 24 hours.
She said: “To say by the end of the Parliament ‘we’ll get it down to one day’ is not a government who has put a political priority on this.
"They’re going to build a yacht quicker."
What does the public think?
A YouGov poll of more than 1,600 people showed that more than half of UK adults believe the £200m projected cost cannot be justified.
Asked whether the cost could be justified, 54% said no. Of those surveyed, 40% said they would oppose recommissioning the Royal Yacht Britannia so it could again be used by the Royal Family for overseas visits, and 47% said they would oppose replacing Britannia with a new royal yacht.
Who will build the ship?
Jake Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, has called for the boat to be built by Cammell Laird on Merseyside.
Since being decommissioned in December 1997, HMY Britannia has been berthed at Edinburgh and used as a tourist attraction.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth, an aircraft carrier, was sent on its first deployment last month to "send a message to China".
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