By Lord Ashcroft, KCMG
It is difficult to believe that it will be 15 years this year since the HMY Britannia was decommissioned. The nation lost a wonderful asset in 1997, and talk at the time of replacing her with another royal yacht quickly seemed to disappear.
The murmurings this week of a privately-financed replacement for Britannia are hugely heartening, even if there is a very long way to go to make this happen. But I would like to be one of the first to offer tangible support to the concept, by offering up to £5 million towards the construction costs of a new, effective and flexible royal yacht.
The Queen was reported as saying of Britannia that it was the one place that she could truly relax. Yet Britannia was built also as a venue for official entertaining and receptions, as well as being a residence for royal tours. It provided state apartments catering for up to several hundred guests and these were used regularly, and effectively, for the promotion of Britain and of enterprise from Britain. A new royal yacht must perform a similar role.
Even though the new yacht could, of course, not be constructed in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, it should become a priority – and be built primarily with the future in mind. In addition to the support of the Queen’s long-standing and continuing work for Britain and for the Commonwealth, a new royal yacht will underpin the increasingly significant work of HRH The Prince of Wales, TRH Prince William and Prince Harry, and other members of the family. A new royal yacht should most certainly be placed at their disposal, and it is right that this should be financed by donations, rather than tax.
During more than 40 years, Britannia sailed more than a million nautical miles and visited more than 600 ports in 135 countries. It carried the Queen and the Royal Family on almost a thousand official voyages. During those years, much has changed, and it is not difficult to see that a new royal yacht would have a very different, but just as important, workload.
It would continue to provide a unique base from which to promote the United Kingdom but not, I would suggest, simply at ocean ports around the world. Many rivers are now navigable by bigger vessels along much of their length, opening up other important destinations.
I have read estimates for the cost of a new yacht. Whether these are in any way accurate remains to be seen. I am, however, certain that there are large numbers of people who would support such a venture privately. Devising a scheme, agreeing costs, and raising the funds are all challenging tasks.
However, I would be pleased to play a role in that process beyond the financial contribution that I am prepared to make: a donation of up to £5 million into a charitable trust.
These are difficult times. For that reason alone, the contribution made by the work and the inspiration of the Royal Family to the fortunes of Britain should be applauded and encouraged. The creation of a new royal yacht is, in my view, an essential element in that process.