HMY Britannia was built at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland. She was launched by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, on 16 April 1953 and commissioned on 11 January 1954. She was the 83rd royal yacht since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. Charles II had 25 Royal Yachts, while five were simultaneously in service in 1831.

Designed to be converted into a hospital ship in time of war, HMY Britannia carried The Queen, other members of the Royal Family, and various dignitaries on 696 foreign visits and 272 visits in British waters. Over 1,000 refugees from the civil war in Aden in 1986 were evacuated by Britannia. The ship was an enormous source of prestige and influence, not only for the United Kingdom, but for the entire Commonwealth especially the Realms which share The Queen as their Sovereign or Monarch, including Australia, Canada New Zealand and the Pacific and Caribbean Realms.  

In a foreign country she would attract enormous attention, and the High Commissioners from the Commonwealth would be prominent among the foreign diplomats often invited on board. The visit would attract even more attention than a Royal Visit normally does. Although Britannia could have been refitted with new engines at a relatively low cost, the Conservative government announced in 1997 that it would replace the Royal Yacht if re-elected.

The Opposition was silent as to its plans.  After the election, with no serious cost-benefit analysis, the new Labour government under Tony Blair, with Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the vessel would be retired and that there would be no replacement.

Ths was short sighted and possibly mean spritited decision which was to the disadvantage of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.