May 30

Scrapping Britannia a mistake, says Prince Philip. He is right.


  In a television interview to mark his 90th birthday Prince Philip has criticised the decision to decommission the vessel in the 1997  cost-cutting measure by the Labour government, reports Adrian Lee in the London Daily Express (17/5). 

He is right.

It was not only short sighted and mean hearted, it was damaging to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, especially the Realms which share The Queen as their Sovereign or Monarch, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Pacific and Caribbean Realms. 

It is important that Britannia be replaced.  We make a suggestion below as to how this could be done

…refurbishing Britannia was best option… 


Asked in the programme by Alan Titchmarsh if it was the right decision Prince Philip gives a bold “no”, saying it left him “saddened”.

He adds: “She should have had her steam turbines taken out and diesel engines put in. She was as sound as a bell and she could have gone on for another 50 years.”

Adrien Lee reports that  interview is due to be screened later this month. He recalls that in the nineties the Conservative government had proposed replacing Britannia with a new yacht at a cost of £60million but Labour scrapped the plan.  Refurbishing her, the option favoured by Prince Philip, would have cost £17million but that was also rejected.

…glorious history…

 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. 



 Royal author Phil Dampier told the Express that the cost of refurbishing Britannia would have been “peanuts”

“The yacht gave the nation tremendous prestige and much smaller royal families in countries such as Denmark still have a royal yacht,” he says.

“Britannia was comfortable and intimate but by no means luxurious… Many of the crew served on Britannia for years. Philip, who was a former naval officer, especially loved Britannia and it held so many happy memories for both him and the Queen,” he added

One of the vessel’s final roles after the handover of Hong Kong back to China in July 1997, the Prince of Wales and the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten and his family left the colony on board Britannia.

The  83rd royal yacht since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 and the second to be called Britannia, she was decommissioned at a ceremony in Portsmouth.

Adrien Lee says that Prince Charles, who shares his father’s fondness for the yacht, once wrote about the impending loss of Britannia: “There was a kind of exasperated sadness experienced by all and sundry.”

Mr. Lee says Prince Charles observed that American officials did not understand the decision to decommission the vessel, which he describes as “the dear yacht”.

…a solution?…

We have argued here that the best solution to the question of royal finances is to hand back the Crown Estate income – all of it – to The Queen. After all it is hers as Queen. Any surplus – as judged by the Palace- could be handed to  worthwhile charities. Some contribution over time could perhaps come from that towards the cost a new royal yacht which would also serve for other purposes in the Royal navy.

This could be considered with another proposal we made here in 2006.

…Commonwealth involvement…

We said then that to obtain the prestige of a Royal Visit with HMY Britannia, and the resulting advantages in influence and goodwill, the French would happily guillotine a whole cabinet of politicians.

The  advantages of Britannia extended to the material. The Overseas Trade Board reckoned that £3 billion had been made for the Exchequer as a result of just the commercial days on Britannia between 1991 and 1995. It is surely in the interests of the UK and the Commonwealth to commission a successor to Britannia.

The running costs could easily be subsidised by making her available to Commonwealth nations, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others. It could also be used by these countries to great advantage for trade promotion and other purposes – with a member of the Royal Family present to lend a Commonwealth aura to the occasion.

The fact is there are few politicians – even Antipodean – who can compete with a prince or princess.

The potential of having The Queen and the other members of the Royal Family to advance the diplomatic and other policies of the Realms other than the United Kingdom has been little investigated or exploited, except perhaps by Canada.

Every so often, an Australian republican, sometimes a politician, will whinge about some member of the Royal Family doing something for the UK. But The Queen and members of the Royal Family regularly perform various functions for Australia, New Zealand, and especially Canada –without it may be noted, any remuneration.

That they do not do more, for example in trade, is the fault of the politicians and of the politicians alone. Surely they understand that a member of the Royal Family advancing some Australian interest would probably be more effective than a politician – especially the republican variety whose principal ability appears to be able to whinge the loudest ?

In addition, it is an elementary proposition, one which any politician ought to know, that the Royal Family can only act when invited.

If they don’t understand this elementary principle of our constitutional system, they shouldn’t be in politics. Instead of whinging, they should see that invitations to advance our interests are made, and made regularly.  



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