Britain’s links with EU allies ‘stronger than ever’ says Royal Navy head

The Queen stands out in purple during a performance by the Royal Guard at the commissioning
The Queen stands out in purple during a performance by the Royal Guard at the commissioning
The Queen talks to members of the ship's company, during the commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Portsmouth Naval Base
Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Queen pays tribute to the Royal Navy during ‘historic’ Portsmouth trip

The Queen talks to veterans Vic Merry and Leonard Chivers   Picture: Habibur Rahman

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DEFENCE links between Britain and its European allies are ‘closer now than they have ever been’, the head of the Royal Navy has said.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones made the comments at the commissioning of the UK’s biggest warship ever built, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

This is an immensely proud day for our great city and a transformational moment in the defence of our nation

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP

The First Sea Lord said links between the Senior Service and its foreign EU allies were going from strength to strength in spite of Brexit.

Queen Elizabeth, he said, would make the globe safer, being used to take the fight to terror groups like the so-called Islamic State as well as providing humanitarian aid.

The admiral’s claims came just hours after EU leaders at the Brexit negotiating table handed Theresa May a 72-hour deadline to come up with an acceptable leave deal.

The PM has until midnight on Sunday to put forward a solution to the Irish border deadlock and other initial divorce issues on leaving the EU.

Mrs May was due to visit Portsmouth to witness the commissioning ceremony, but was forced to pull out at the 11th hour.

When quizzed on what Britain’s decision to leave the European Union meant for defence, the First Sea Lord said: ‘We have been spending quite a bit of time in defence working out what that means to us and of course immediately it hasn’t changed anything

‘The Royal Navy is still significantly involved in EU maritime operations in both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

‘What it has forced us to do is to work harder at what are the key components to our defence and security relationship with our key European allies. We can feel those bonds tightening, not loosening.’

Among those in attendance at yesterday’s ceremony in Portsmouth were high-ranking Nato officials, including the head of the French navy and the US ambassador.

Chancellor Philip Hammond was also among the VIPs to join the Queen and the Princess Royal.

Admiral Sir Philip said it was a ‘great day’ and paid tribute to all those who had been part of the carrier project.

When asked if the 65,000-tonne behemoth could be used in the battle against terror groups, he said: ‘Yes she could do carrier strike (operations) so yes we could launch strikes against Daesh from a ship like this the way the US and French navy have.’

But he added the ship had the capacity to embark a large rotary wing group, taking on amphibious operations, evacuations and disaster relief.

‘The great thing about a ship like this is it’s got the size, the scale and the flexibility to do a whole raft of operations,’ he said.

At the ceremony, members of the ship’s 700-strong crew lined up in the vessel’s hangar.

A ceremonial guard of 96 sailors, led by Lieutenant Commander Antony ‘Nick’ Leeson, 37, of Portsmouth, was inspected by Her Majesty and the Princess Royal.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, said: ‘This is an immensely proud day for our great city and a transformational moment in the defence of our nation.’

The White Ensign was raised by AB Jessica Hewes, 26, of Portsmouth and AB Ellie Smith, 20, of Hull.

As well as being commissioned, the ship was formally accepted by the navy from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance ahead of schedule.