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19 April 2024

Britain floats idea for privately-funded royal yacht


Britain's government said it would consider plans for a privately-funded new royal yacht for Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee, but sank suggestions taxpayers could foot the bill.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman made the comments on Monday after education minister Michael Gove wrote a letter proposing the replacement of the royal yacht Britannia, which was decomissioned in 1997.

Initially the spokesman poured cold water on the idea, saying public funding for was not in keeping with the tough austerity measures brought in by Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

"I don't think this would be an appropriate use of public money, given the state of the nation's finances," the spokesman told reporters.

But he later said Cameron would likely "react favourably" if asked to support a bid to raise private money to pay for a vessel to commemorate the queen's 60 years on the throne.

"The proposal has come forward from a number of sources to build a new royal yacht. Clearly they are talking about using private money, whether that is from organisations or institutions or companies or individuals," he said.

Newspaper reports suggest that the yacht could cost between £60 million and £80 million (73 and 96 million euros, ê92 million and ê123 million), of which £10 million has already been put up by a Canadian consortium.

Asked if Cameron would be willing to offer non-financial assistance to a project, the spokesman said: "We would react favourably to that, but it is not a government proposal."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had also ruled out any public funding, joking after a speech on the economy that it was a case of "the haves and the have yachts".

There was no comment from Buckingham Palace, but the queen was extremely fond of the Royal Yacht Britannia and was seen to shed a tear when it was decommissioned 15 years ago.

The ship is now permanently moored as a visitor attraction in the Scottish capital Edinburgh. Earlier this month it started to list after taking on some water, which was later pumped out.

In a letter to culture minister Jeremy Hunt obtained by the Guardian newspaper, Gove wrote: "In spite, and perhaps because of the austere times, the celebration should go beyond those of previous jubilees and mark the greater achievement that the diamond anniversary represents."

He said that the queen's "highly significant contribution" to Britain and the Commonwealth, which groups 54 nations, mostly former British colonies, should be recognised with something more permanent than street parties.

"My suggestion would be a gift from the nation to her majesty; thinking about... (the) excellent suggestion of a royal yacht, and something tangible to commemorate this momentous occasion," he said.

The main opposition Labour party said Gove was "out of touch" to think such expenditure was appropriate when school budgets were being cut as part of the austerity measures.

"When school budgets are being slashed, parents will be wondering how Gove came even to suggest this idea. This is not the time to spend £60 million on a yacht," deputy chairman Tom Watson said.

Government sources said however that Gove did not mean that it should be publicly funded.