HMS Queen Elizabeth's deployment 'won't be confrontational' say Boris Johnson during visit to Portsmouth
A WINDSWEPT Boris Johnson took to the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth today to wish the Royal Navy flagship all the best ahead of its maiden deployment from Portsmouth.
The prime minister toured the 65,000-tonne warship this morning, accompanied by military top brass, defence secretary Ben Wallace and Portsmouth North MP, Penny Mordaunt.
Mr Johnson even had the opportunity to sit inside the cockpit of one of the state-of-the-art F-35 stealth jets embarked on the £3.2bn aircraft carrier.
The PM’s visit to the warship came as her crew carry out their final preparations before departing on their maiden mission on Saturday evening, which will see Queen Elizabeth spearheading Europe’s most powerful naval task group to the Indo-Pacific region and back.
The departure has been brought forward by the Royal Navy due to heavy winds forecast for the weekend.
During his visit to Portsmouth, Mr Johnson faced strong winds as he inspected the flight deck of the aircraft carrier.
Speaking to broadcasters, the PM said the deployment of the 280-metre ship to the Far East would not be ‘confrontational’, but was instead about asserting the ‘international law of the sea.
The trip comes after the government’s Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy decided Britain should ‘tilt’ its focus towards the Indo-Pacific region, seen as a response to the growing influence of China on the world stage.
Mr Johnson said: ‘This is an opportunity to work with friends and partners around the world, about 40 countries will be joining us on this on this operation.
‘This carrier strike group will be going through Suez, through the Red Sea, round India, through the south China seas.
‘And on the way, the people who will be going on this mission will be doing a number of things – they’ll be projecting not just Britain’s hard power, military capabilities, which are obviously extraordinary, but also our soft power, our values, what we stand for, our belief in democracy, in the rule of law.
‘One of the things we’ll be doing clearly is showing to our friends in China that we believe in the international law of the sea and, in a confident but not a confrontational way, we will be vindicating that point.’
Asked whether it was designed to provoke Beijing, Mr Johnson replied: ‘No, we don’t want to antagonise anybody.’
Portsmouth North MP, Penny Mordaunt said it was ‘quite right’ the PM visited HMS Queen Elizabeth before her deployment.
‘This is a huge moment for our country,’ she added. ‘This deployment – where she will go, what she will do, and who with – is Britain’s next chapter.
‘I’m so proud of the ship, her company and our city and I know the PM is too.’
The 65,000-tonne warship had intended to depart on Sunday morning but bad weather forced the navy to change its plan, and it is now expected to leave on Saturday night at 9.30pm.
It will be the first time the carrier has left the port at night, although it has sailed into Portsmouth in the early hours previously.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman explained that winds had to be taken into account because of the narrow entrance of Portsmouth Harbour as well as the dredged channels for the approaches from the Solent which were created specifically for the carriers.
He said: ‘This is a standard response to a changing weather system.’
The carrier, with eight RAF and 10 US Marine Corps F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
The Carrier Strike Group, which will carry out visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, will include the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
A total of 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines are involved in the deployment which will cover 25,000 nautical miles.