Belfast Telegraph

UUP backs calls for new £100m royal yacht

A new royal yacht would showcase the best of British, the Ulster Unionist Party has said.

More than 100 Tory MPs have 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.  A replacement is expected to cost £100million.

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.

Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday afternoon Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan said: "The Royal Family is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest assets. Our ability to punch above our weight on the world stage is in many ways attributable to the steadfast and tireless work of our Queen.

"A new Royal Yacht would bolster our diplomatic efforts at a crucial time, as we enter the choppy waters of Brexit negotiations and work to build trade deals with countries around the globe. Such an endeavour would symbolise all that is good about the United Kingdom and its industry.

"Imagine a new vessel constructed in our very own shipyard in Belfast. I cannot think of a better way to showcase the skills of one of Northern Ireland’s most famous industries.

"Obviously, we would need to diligently explore the most achievable and cost-effective funding options but in this time of uncertainty, we must believe in the strength, skills and talent of our great country."

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?"

He warned against the Royal Navy having to pick up the full costs.

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."

He added to Tory former minister Sir Gerald Howarth: "If you can come forward with a business proposal, I think we'd all be very keen to see it.

"No-one is trying to stop you bringing one forward."

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."

Opening the Westminster Hall debate, Tory Jake Berry argued there are many ideas about how to commission a new royal yacht with no upfront cost to taxpayers.

The Rossendale and Darwen MP said of a new yacht: "It should be a shop window for what is best about British ship building."

SNP MP Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) said: "This is just a wistful throwback to the days of the Raj."

The Government has ruled out plans for a new royal yacht and insisted it is "very, very unlikely" taxpayers' cash will be used to investigate privately-backed proposals.

International Trade Minister Mark Garnier said he would be "very keen" to see a business plan for a new royal yacht Britannia from MPs.

But he made it clear the Government has "no plans and has had no plans" to commission a replacement for the existing Britannia, which was taken out of service in 1997 and is now a popular tourist attraction in Leith, Edinburgh.

He also rejected the suggestion that the existing Britannia could be recommissioned, adding: "Clearly it's well past its active life."

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