A ‘sponsored Britannia’ could be the answer

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The suggestion of a new royal yacht as a Diamond Jubilee present to the Queen might well have some particular resonance in the Portsmouth area.

After all, it was in this great naval city that Britannia was based before she was decomissioned 14 years ago.

That decision caused widespread sadness and is said to have been the cause of the only tears shed in public by the Queen.

At first yesterday it was reported that Education Secretary Michael Gove had suggested a publicly-funded £60m gift from the nation to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

It later emerged that Mr Gove was in fact throwing his backing behind a plan hatched by Rear Admiral David Bawtree, a former commander of Portsmouth Naval Base. Rather than solely a taxpayer-funded yacht, this would be a scientific educational facility that would contain special quarters for when it was in use by the royal family.

In these days of austerity, when non-essential projects are unlikely to get off the drawing board, this could be a way of not only returning some of Britain’s former maritime prestige, but also showing that the royal family are capable of adapting and contributing to the modern age.

A new version of Britannia would rekindle the spirit of days of Empire and carry Britain’s pride – as well as its sovereign – across the seas of the world, but could also spread our expertise and scientific ability.

Undoubtedly there is a view that the yacht is in part at least a pleasure cruiser for the royal family and so perhaps it is not surprising that the government does not think it politic to commit public money to any project.

But the idea that a new yacht could be funded by private donation has more appeal, and a mighty sailing vessel based in Portsmouth would be a glorious sight wherever she went in the world.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that enough people with sufficient funds share that dream and that, with support and encouragement rather than hard cash from Whitehall, it could yet become a reality.