Boris Johnson asked by Penny Mordaunt to be 'bold' in retrofitting UK vessel to succeed Royal Yacht Britannia
BORIS Johnson has been asked to order the refitting of a UK ship to become ‘the successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia’ in a ‘bold’ plan drawn up by Penny Mordaunt.
The Portsmouth North MP, the former international development secretary, has written to the prime minister asking him to be ‘bold and creative’ as she outline her vision.
She has put forward the concept of ‘highly flexible vessels’ that could be deployed to humanitarian crises, taking the strain from the 'grey hulls’ of Royal Navy warships – while also being used to bring an economic boost for Britain.
Such ships would act as a UK Aid Maritime capability, Ms Mordaunt writes, and be UK-flagged and controlled.
The ‘Britannia 2.0’ concept vessels ‘have been rightly seen as a successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia,’ Ms Mordaunt said in her letter.
Crucially, Ms Mordaunt has suggested private, research, commercial and charity cash could be brought in to fund the vessels, alongside funding from the aid budget.
Doing so could support shipyards that ‘need a steady drumbeat’ of production – potentially saving some from closure, she said.
The call comes as Mr Johnson merges the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Writing to Mr Johnson, the MP said: ‘I ask that in your reprioritisation of (the overseas aid budget) this and other concepts which have the potential to lever in further funds, create jobs, retain capabilities, and deliver on our ambitions for Global Britain are made a reality.
‘A good next step would be to refit an existing vessel to test the concept.
‘Now is the time to be bold and creative. To think about what we actually need and how we can deliver on it with a reduced budget.
‘I would be delighted if you would ask Ministers to take this forward and, although such vessels should always be deployed if Portsmouth were to be their base port!’
Ms Mordaunt, now paymaster general in Mr Johnson’s government, said the ships could be part-funded by the overseas aid budget, together with private, research, commercial and charitable funds.
Conceived as ‘a highly flexible facility’, they could be deployed as a university hospital, used by the Royal Navy ‘in times of strain’, or Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Border Force – or by the Foreign Office to repatriate British nationals.
Making the case for her plan, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘We need a steady drumbeat in our remaining ship halls to make production viable and to keep industry investing in skills and innovation.
‘It is a sovereign capability we cannot lose.
‘We need a greater number of sea-time opportunities for the next generation of mariners to properly train and qualify, and we need more platforms so that we are not taking grey hulls off vital tasking to provide ships for humanitarian or diplomatic missions.’
Ms Mordaunt said that scoping work at Dfid in 2018 revealed the aid budget could be used to fund the craft, with other government departments and agencies indicating they would use it.
She added: ‘We know that industry would also support, as would a growing coalition of commercial and trade ventures, research organisations, shipbuilders and ship support companies, maritime training organisations and medical and health projects.
‘These vessels have been rightly seen as a successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia.
‘Given the level of interest, it may be possible to generate income from the vessels.’
Britannia, which entered service in 1954 and was decommissioned in 1997, previously hosted trade talks in the early 1990s which pumped billions into the UK.