February 16

A new Britannia?


As we mentioned in our last column, there has been a strong expression of support in the UK for a successor for HMY Britannia.

In the London Daily Telegraph on 28 December 2005, Jack Richards, asked how much would each Daily Telegraph reader have to contribute under "gift aid" to provide the Queen with a modest royal yacht?

Then on 29 December, 2005 Harry Desmond offered to make a donation towards the complete refurbishment of the royal yacht Britannia to be given to the Queen and her family for her personal use in perpetuity, so that no future government can take it away from her.

Jennifer Miller asked how the Norwegians, with a far smaller population than the UK, manage to provide their royal family with a royal yacht, which was anchored in the Thames only recently?

On 31 December, 2005, The Daily Telgraph carried a letter from Lord Ashbourne, who was the founder and chairman of the All Party Royal Yacht Parliamentary Group. He wrote to say that the Telegraph’s correspondents were right to imply that it is a scandal that “we no longer have a royal yacht when much smaller nations do.”

He said the Group takes the view that Britain should have a royal yacht designed and built for the dual roles of royal duties and export promotion.

They strongly supported the House of Commons defence committee, which, in its seventh report dated July 17, 1996, stated:

"In view of the important ceremonial, diplomatic and trade functions which will otherwise go by default, we recommend that an appropriate replacement vessel, flying the White Ensign and manned by the Royal Navy, be built in a British shipyard."

He said these views were strongly supported by the British Exporters Association and British Invisibles. When the Conservatives are returned to power, he said, “let us hope that David Cameron will have the vision to commission a new royal yacht.”

(Lord Ashbourne has constantly argued that a successor to Britannia should be commissioned, see, for example the House of Lords Hansard of 11 June 1997)

In the same edition, Robert Coatsworth wrote to say that there was no need to ask the Norwegians how they provided their royal family with a royal yacht. “The diesel yacht Philante was built by Camper and Nicholson for Tommy Sopwith in 1937. The ship was impressed into the Royal Navy early in the war. “

”After serving the nation by picking up practice torpedoes out of the sea, she became the headquarters for Commodore Sir Gilbert Stephenson. The Navy had paid for the yacht, which was bought back by Tommy Sopwith after the war. He then accepted an offer from the Association of Norwegian Ship Owners in 1947.

The ship was renamed Norge and presented to King Haakon VII on the occasion of his 75th birthday for use as a royal yacht.”

Mary Fitch said the Norwegians can afford to provide a royal yacht because they do not belong to the EU and were not subsidising European farmers. Also, unlike Britain,she wrote” Norway still has vast reserves of North Sea oil and gas, which makes it even richer than us.”

Then, in The Daily Telegraph on 3 January, 2006 Michael Ranken wrote as secretary of the all-party Parliamentary Maritime Group for 20 years , and strongly supported Lord Ashbourne and others about the need for a new royal yacht.

”This time it should fulfil a range of duties in support of Britain and the Commonwealth’s maritime and trading interests. These are much wider than envisaged 60 years ago and performed so well by HM Yacht Britannia.

He said that the ordering of Britannia was put in train by Clement Attlee three months before Winston Churchill replaced him in No 10 in 1951. “That beautiful steam turbine-driven ship, built in John Brown’s Clydebank yard, steamed some 1,000,000 nautical miles until final retirement at Leith.”

”I have always believed that Attlee put construction of the ship in train late in 1950 because he knew Churchill would have difficulty in doing so soon after he took over in 1951 – a generous gesture to his wartime colleague and chief.”

”The new ship must certainly be built in the United Kingdom and embody the best of today’s latest design and economy, with a minimum crew size.”

Berit H. Stutt wrote to point out that when King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav returned to Norway after the German occupation in 1945, the Norwegian people wanted to show their love by giving them a royal yacht. Virtually everyone gave, as much as they could afford, no matter how little.” As a young Norwegian girl, I gave 10 kroner (which seemed a lot in those days).

”Although now a British citizen,” he wrote, “ I still feel proud every time I see Norge – even if I only paid for perhaps one nut.”

”I hope the British people will now do the same for their own monarch, who has given her whole life to their service.”

Paul Weightman said that the present Norwegian royal yacht helped to win the Battle of Britain. He noted that Sir Thomas Sopwith, for whom it was originally being built, sent his chief engineer to Germany in 1936 to inspect the diesel engines that were to power his yacht, then under construction in Britain.

”When the engineer also reported on the scale of German U-boat and aircraft engine manufacture, Sir Thomas immediately gave instruction for his firm to build hundreds of Hurricane fighters at his own expense, without an order from the Air Ministry. If these aircraft had not been ready in 1940, the outcome of war could have been very different.”

Finally, in the Telegraph on 5 January, 2006,Christopher Booker pointed out that the sum quoted to replace the royal yacht when it was decided to scrap Britannia in 1997 was £60 million.

”This would have cost us less than we now pay every two days into the EU budget (£70 million), and is less than the cost of one Eurofighter (£65 million).

Which of these three projects would have given the taxpayers best value for money?”

In our next column, we shall present our case for the replacement of Britannia, to the advantage of the Commonwealth and the various Realms.

Link to House of Lords Hansard


Royal Yacht Britannia, The Queen

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