The government has acquired a second, brand new plane painted in the colours of the union flag to be used by the prime minister and other dignitaries for short-haul trips.
The six-month-old Airbus A321 was photographed at Stansted airport at the weekend with the new red, white and blue paintwork.
A government spokesperson insisted the second aircraft, which it said had been repainted with a “Global Britain livery”, represents “value for money”. They declined to comment on the cost of the lease or new paintwork.
The aircraft will be used when Mr Johnson, cabinet ministers or members of the royal family are making short or medium-haul trips, with a range that could take them to destinations elsewhere in Europe or even as far as the US east coast. The larger RAF Voyager, an Airbus A330, will continue to be used when ministers or royals are flying further afield.
Photographs showed the aircraft was painted in an all-black livery before it was delivered new from the Airbus facility in Hamburg to Titan Airways in October. It is understood the A321 – used by carriers around the world, including British Airways and easyJet – is being leased by the government from Titan Airways.
According to data from tracking service FlightRadar24, the aircraft was flown from Norwich to Stansted airport on Friday evening.
On Sunday a photo of the jet, which features the same livery as the RAF Voyager, with “United Kingdom” in gold font and a union flag adorning the tail plane and “sharklet” wingtips, was posted on an aviation forum, and subsequently shared on social media.
A government spokesperson told The Independent: “Ministers and members of the royal household sometimes require the use of non-commercial air travel.
“The aircraft with its Global Britain livery will promote a strong image of the role the UK plays on the international stage when it is used by the prime minister, government ministers and senior members of the royal household.
“It also offers value for money compared to the ad-hoc hire of private planes.“
The spokesperson added that commercial flights were the “preferred option” for ministers and that costs were “taken into account in all travel decisions”.
They said details of the contract with Titan Airways and the associated costs would be revealed at a later date.
It is unclear when the prime minister will first travel on the new plane.
Labour MP Clive Lewis, a former shadow minister for climate change, said the acquisition of a second government aircraft sent the wrong message in the same year that the UK hosts the Cop26 UN climate change conference.
“Why does he need two planes?” he said. “This is all about ‘Global Britain’, it is about the projection of influence and power, and there are better ways to show leadership in the world than having a carbon footprint the size of a yeti.
“All of us need to change how we live and how we operate, and why not show leadership from the top. Clearly the prime minister has to fly, but he should lead by example and use existing airlines.”
Stewart Hosie, the SNP’s shadow cabinet office minister, said: “It is staggering that Boris Johnson is wasting more public money on yet another Tory red, white and blue vanity project.
“It speaks volumes in terms of the Tories’ priorities that they will throw taxpayers’ cash at a private Tory government jet and Union Jack paint job at the same time as imposing a public sector pay freeze, cuts to universal credit, and tax rises for millions of workers.
“The Tory government must come clean over how much public money it has spent on this second private plane – given it is not long after it splurged nearly £1m of taxpayers’ cash on its first private plane – in the middle of a pandemic.”
The £900,000 cost of Mr Johnson’s red, white and blue paint job for the larger RAF Voyager was confirmed last summer by the prime minister’s official spokesman, who said the repainting would allow the plane to “better represent the UK around the world with national branding, which will be in line with many other leaders’ planes”.
Opposition MPs accused the government at the time of an “utterly unacceptable use of public funds”.
The RAF Voyager, an Airbus A330 jet, underwent a £10m refit to carry ministerial and royal VIPs in 2015.
David Cameron’s government defended the decision to repurpose the aircraft, saying it would save about £775,000 a year compared with chartering flights.
Mr Cameron first used the aircraft when it flew the prime minister to a Nato summit in Poland in 2016.
The grey paintwork was replaced with the union flag in June 2020 at the request of Mr Johnson’s government and came to be known as the “Brexit jet”.
The Independent has contacted Titan Airways for comment.
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