Flagship royal yacht scrapped as government spending cuts loom in autumn statement

A contentious plan to build a new royal yacht has been scrapped, the defence secretary has confirmed.

The successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was expected to cost around £200m, was announced by Boris Johnson in May 2021.

Mr Johnson, the prime minister at the time, said it would reflect "the UK's burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation" after Brexit.

The flagship was going to be named after the late Duke of Edinburgh, and used to host trade fairs, ministerial summits and diplomatic talks as the UK sought to build links and boost exports.

Speaking in the Commons today, Ben Wallace, whose department was due to fund the project, told MPs he was prioritising the procurement of the multirole ocean surveillance ship (MROSS) instead and had cancelled the competition to build the boat.

"In the face of the Russian illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and Putin's reckless disregard of international arrangements designed to keep world order, it is right that we prioritise delivering capabilities which safeguard our national infrastructure," he said.

The building of the multimillion-pound vessel had been heavily criticised by MPs and peers over whether it was value for money, especially after the public purse had been squeezed during the pandemic.

Last year, the Commons Defence Committee warned there was "no evidence of the advantage to the Royal Navy of acquiring the national flagship" and that the price tag, as well as running costs, would add to the pressure on the service.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey welcomed the scrapping of the "previous prime minister's vanity project" and that spending was being given to "purposes that will help defend the country".

Its cancellation comes ahead of an autumn statement on 17 November, in which Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, and Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor are expected to announce a raft of spending cuts to fill in the £60bn black hole in the public finances.

The pair have been tight-lipped about what other measures will be introduced, and whether commitments such as the pensions triple lock will be kept in place.

Both have promised the announcements will be "compassionate" to those most in need.

Asked about the prime minister's perspective of scrapping the boat, Mr Sunak's official spokesman said he "thinks it is right to prioritise at a time when difficult spending decisions need to be made" and "finances are tight".

Mr Wallace told MPs he would hold talks with Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt this week in an attempt to secure funding to "protect our armed forces and our current plans from inflation" in the upcoming statement.