Government rules out using taxpayers' money to fund new Royal yacht

Mark Garnier said there are 'hard facts which stand in the way of a new yacht' 

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Plans for a new royal yacht have been scuppered as the Government insisted it is "very, very unlikely" taxpayers' money will be used to investigate any privately-backed proposals.

It comes after a group of Conservative MPs attempted to resurrect the Royal ship Britannia, which acted as the Queen’s private yacht between 1954 and 1997 and hosted trade talks in the early 1990s before being axed by Tony Blair in 1997. The antiquated vessel is currently docked in Scotland.  

Speaking at a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall, which occurred at the same time as a debate on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Mark Garnier, the international trade minister, made clear the Government had “no plans and has had no plans” to commission a replacement for the existing Britannia.

"Clearly it's well past its active life,” he added.

But the minister also gave the unusual cause a ray of hope, suggesting he would be “very keen” to see a business proposal from the former Conservative minister Sir Gerald Howarth. "No-one is trying to stop you bringing one forward,” Mr Garnier added. 

More than 100 Tory MPs had backed a campaign calling for the Government to set up a panel to examine the case for a new vessel, which they believe could be a key part of the post-Brexit future. Suggestions from the group include using the UK's overseas aid budget to help run it, with MPs also hearing a call for each Whitehall department to contribute

Tory former defence minister Andrew Murrison joked: "Whichever model we choose can we make sure it is tasteful and not a gin palace, and not a Philip Green-type vessel?"

Replying to a parliamentary debate, Mr Garnier said there are "hard facts which stand in the way of a new yacht" – including the likely £120 million cost and the need to fund its operation and maintenance. Mr Garnier went on: "We haven't seen a business proposal, we haven't seen a cost benefit analysis and so to a certain extent this debate is hypothetical.

"The international development budget is something which I think is separate from this particular discussion. We're talking about trade, not international development, so it is slightly different."

Mr Garnier also told MPs: "We have to be clear the Government has no plans and has had no plans to commission a new royal yacht, and as such it is very, very unlikely indeed that the Government will use taxpayers' money to fund a royal commission or an investigation into whether we could commission a new royal yacht."

The Rossendale and Darwen MP said of a new yacht: "It should be a shop window for what is best about British ship building." Deidre Brock, the SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, said: “This is just a wistful throwback to the days of the Raj.”

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