Boris Johnson has denied his plan to spend up to £250m on a new royal yacht is a waste of money – claiming it would let Britain “show off” to the world.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has urged the prime minister to ditch plans for the luxury vessel and spend create the money on a fund to tackle anti-social behaviour.
But Mr Johnson said on Wednesday that building a “flagship” boat would act as a hub for attracting wealthy investors.
“We need somewhere where the UK can show itself off to the world and attract investment and that will drive jobs and growth in the UK – not just in shipbuilding but across every sector of the UK,” he told LBC.
Mr Johnson said he expected that the royal yacht to be a “forum” allowing British business bosses to seek international investment opportunities.
“We need a forum, a place where the best of British business and industry can come together to showcase what we have to offer, and … you know what I mean by, by MIPIM, the world trade fairs, the expos,” he said.
The prime minister added: “It is a project that will not only help to revive the ship building industry in this country, drive immediate jobs and growth for young people, immediate job opportunities for young people in a sector in which this country used to lead the world.”
A new “flagship” vessel to succeed the Royal Yacht Britannia could cost as much as £250m, the defence secretary said on Wednesday.
Ben Wallace said the costs of the “floating embassy” could be a £50m increase on previously reported estimates of £200m.
At a speech in Greenwich, Mr Wallace said: “There has been a lot of reporting around this ship. Not all of it accurate … I aim to commission the ship for between £200m and £250m on a firm price.”
He said the competition will run until the end of October, winners would be announced in December and construction could begin next year, with the aim of getting a ship in the water by 2024 or 2025.
But last week’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) tender document showed the department’s budget for the project to be only £150m.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, responding to Mr Wallace’s remarks, said: “Boris Johnson has lost control of his vanity yacht. It is absolutely staggering that costs have rocketed by £100m in a week.”
“Labour would scrap the government’s latest pet project and invest taxpayers’ money wisely to tackle crime and the surge in antisocial behaviour under this Conservative government.”
Downing Street has previously said the MoD would be responsible for the “initial cost of taking the flagship through the procurement process” – but it remains unclear how it will be fully funded.
Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has called the project a “ludicrous” waste of money. Among the other critics, former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke dismissed it as “silly populist nonsense”.
Last month one leading naval architect said the government’s vision of a new national flagship to replace the royal yacht looked like a “1950s fishing trawler”. Stephen Payne said he was far from impressed by the artist’s impression issued by Downing Street in June.
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