Britain cancels plans for trade flagship

Ben Wallace walks outside Number 10 Downing Street in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain won't proceed with building a new national flagship to promote business and trade interests around the world, defence minister Ben Wallace said on Monday, ending one of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pet projects.

The ship was announced in May 2021 to host trade shows and negotiations, but tendering of contracts had not been completed.

Wallace said that the project had been scrapped as he was prioritising building ships to detect threats to cables on the seabed in order to protect national infrastructure.

"I have also therefore directed the termination of the national flagship competition, with immediate effect," Wallace told lawmakers, adding he would bring forward the first surveillance ship in its place.

Johnson had said that Britain's first national flagship since 1997 , also known as a royal yacht, would be a symbol of Britain's "burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation" following its departure from the European Union.

A flagship to promote global trade has long been advocated by proponents of Brexit, who highlight the possibilities for new free trade agreements now Britain has left the bloc.

Critics, however, point to its impracticality and cost, with its benefits seeming intangible compared to disruption to trade with the EU, Britain's biggest export market, and the impact on intra-UK trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The government of new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is mulling tax rises and spending cuts to fill an estimated 50 billion pound fiscal hole, to be announced at a Nov. 17 budget.

Wallace has declined to say whether the government will recommit to a pledge to spend 3% of GDP on defence by 2030 as previous governments had targeted.

"The MoD has prioritised its spending," Sunak spokesman said, referring to the ministry of defence. "It was right to prioritise at a time when finances are tight."

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, editing by Andy Bruce)