The office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to build a new “national flagship’ to promote British trade and investment.
The plans were announced by 10 Downing Street on Sunday. The new vessel, it said, would be the first of its kind and reflect the UK’s “burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation’’.
The ship is expected to cost about 200 million pounds (€232.6m) and would be in service for about 30 years, with construction to begin in 2022. It would be crewed by the Royal Navy and used to host high-level summits and trade events.
The announcement came a day after the UK premier married Carrie Symonds at a secret ceremony at London’s Westminster Cathedral.
During the week Johnson had come under fire after ex-chief advisor Dominic Cummings excoriated the government’s response to COVID-19 in evidence to a parliamentary committee.
The UK government is also under pressure to revise its plan to relax all restrictions from June 21 after a surge in new coronavirus cases in the country, attributed to the Indian variant.
Some commentators lambasted plans to construct a flagship – the first of its kind since the last royal yacht, HMS Britannia, was taken out of service in 1977 – after Sunday’s announcement.
Opposition Labour party member Bridget Philipson said: “We want to see public money used for targeted investment in a green economic recovery, resources for our NHS [National Health Service] and supporting families to succeed.
“If this ship is going to be part of a genuine plan for Britain’s future, the government must set out clearly how it will boost trade, jobs and growth in every corner of our country.”
Downing Street’s statement said every aspect of the as-yet unnamed ship would promote “the best of British – a clear and powerful symbol of our commitment to be an active player on the world stage”.
But Peter Ricketts, a retired diplomat and independent member of the UK parliament’s upper chamber the House of Lords, suggested to the BBC the idea was anachronistic.
“I think the fact that no other country has a ship like this,” he said, “is because the idea is now so long out of date.”
Besides, he said, if Britain needed a flagship it already had one: the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which cost £3 billion (€3.48bn) and was only christened in 2014.