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Boris Johnson has denied his plan to spend more than £200m on a new royal yacht is a waste of money – claiming it would let Britain “show off” to the world.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has urged the prime minister to ditch plans for the luxury vessel and spend create the money on a fund to tackle anti-social behaviour.
But Mr Johnson said on Wednesday that building a “flagship” boat would act as a hub for attracting wealthy investors.
“We need somewhere where the UK can show itself off to the world and attract investment and that will drive jobs and growth in the UK – not just in shipbuilding but across every sector of the UK,” he told LBC.
Mr Johnson said he expected that the royal yacht to be a “forum” allowing British business bosses to seek international investment opportunities.
“We need a forum, a place where the best of British business and industry can come together to showcase what we have to offer, and … you know what I mean by, by MIPIM, the world trade fairs, the expos,” he said.
The prime minister added: “It is a project that will not only help to revive the ship building industry in this country, drive immediate jobs and growth for young people, immediate job opportunities for young people in a sector in which this country used to lead the world.”
Last month one leading naval architect said the government’s vision of a new national flagship to replace the royal yacht looked like a “1950s fishing trawler”.
Stephen Payne, the designer of the massive ocean liner Queen Mary 2, said he was far from impressed by the artist’s impression issued by Downing Street in June.
“I just think we could do something more ambitious,” said Mr Payne. “As for financing this ship, there’s £200m to find and I’d be surprised if the running costs weren’t £5m a year.”
The government has said the successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia could begin being built as soon as 2022 and enter service within four years.
Downing Street has said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would be responsible for the “initial cost of taking the flagship through the procurement process” – but it is still unclear how it will be funded.
Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has called the project a “ludicrous” waste of money. Among the other critics, former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke dismissed it as “silly populist nonsense”.