Her Majesty's Ship the royal yacht Britannia in Hong Kong before it was decommissioned in 1997
Boris Johnson has appealed to a gathering of Tory donors for funds to build a new royal yacht.
The foreign secretary said on Thursday:
If a consortium of philanthropists wished to give Her Majesty a yacht and pay for it, then that’s not something I would impede.
However, recommissioning Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia “is not a Government priority," he said, adding: "I must tell you regretfully.”
He told a Commons committee:
And I must also inform you, alas, that the former Royal Yacht Britannia is, I’m told, incapable of being refloated because its engine has been removed, its propellers have been taken off and a hole carved in its side to make it into a museum, so we can’t do that.
A plan to bring back the royal yacht, which cost on average £11 million pounds a year to run in the 1990s and was paid for out of public funds, was originally proposed by Jake Berry, Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, who said the new boat could be used to help secure post-Brexit trade deals.
The Foreign secretary is the most senior Cabinet minister to support the plans so far. Prime Minister Theresa May opposes the idea and forbade Mr Johnson from speaking about it at the Conservative Party conference in early October.
On Tuesday, the Mirror revealed that a group of Conservative Party MPs met to discuss the plan at exactly the same time other ministers discussed the crisis in Syria in another chamber.
The original Royal Yacht Britannia, which acted as the Queen’s private yacht between 1954 and 1997, hosted trade talks in the early 1990s.
It was retired in 1997 and not replaced because Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to budget £50 million of public money for a new boat.
Ministers have said the new yacht could cost £120 million.
Around 100 Conservative MPs are backing a campaign for ministers to commission a panel to consider the merits of investing in a new ship. The campaign is also being supported by the Telegraph.
Although Mr Johnson is calling for the boat to be paid for by donations, some MPs disagree and said Government departments – including the international development department – should spread the cost of a new yacht among themselves.
Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister, told MPs in a Parliamentary debate that the new yacht's cost was “modest” compared to the £12 billion a year aid budget.
He said the cost should be split between
four government departments – the ministry of defence, the business, energy and industrial strategy department, the foreign office and the rich as Croesus department for international development – so some good can come out of the money there.
A new royal yacht was “not a luxury but a must have” and would “deliver a statement of our intent post-Brexit and deliver a return on investment to Britain in the long term”, he said.
Mark Garnier, a trade minister, said that while there was no public money for a new yacht, if MPs came forward with a “business proposal, I think we'd all be very keen to see it”.