Plans for a new £100million Royal Yacht Britannia have received the backing of Liam Fox who has insisted he would “love a trade yacht” to help win deals for Britain after Brexit.
Dr Fox, the international trade secretary whose job is to negotiate trade deals after the UK quits the European Union, said he supported a replacement yacht if it were paid for by private donors.
The comments come after months of campaigning by Tory MPs and The Daily Telegraph for a replacement for Britannia, which was controversially decommissioned by Tony Blair's Labour Government 20 years ago.
Dr Fox is the second Cabinet minister to come out in favour of a new royal yacht. He privately told friends last month: “If the private sector pays for it I would love a trade yacht.”
A source close to Dr Fox added: “He is more than willing to look at proposals from the private sector but there can be no public money spent on it.”
The comments emerged after Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said a new yacht would attract “overwhelming support” and will be considered by the Government.
Mr Johnson’s remarks were the first time that a Government minister had backed the campaign for a new ship at the despatch box in the House of Commons.
Mr Johnson was responding to a question in the Commons from Tory MP Jake Berry who has led the campaign for a privately paid for yacht.
He added that a new ship “would indeed add greatly to the soft power of this country, a soft power which is already very considerable”.
Last night they were supported by Michael Gove, the former Cabinet minister, who told The Daily Telegraph, that Mr Johnson “was absolutely spot on”.
He added: “The proposal as outlined by Jake Berry is absolutely right and Boris’s encouragement for it is itself a very good sign.”
Mr Berry added that Dr Fox's comments were "an acknowledgement by the secretary of state that a new royal yacht is a vital tool for this newly created department to promote international trade following Britain leaving the EU".
Commodore Anthony Morrow, the last commanding officer of the royal yacht before she was decommissioned in 1997, welcomed Dr Fox's comments.
He said: “It is most encouraging to hear of the support being given towards a new Royal Yacht by ministers – such a ship will follow the huge benefit Britannia gave to UK trade and business interests for much of her time in commission.”
Downing Street has repeatedly said that a new yacht is “not a priority” for Mrs May and that her Government will not spend any money on it.
The cost to the taxpayer of running the new yacht is estimated at £10million a year. Around 100 Tory MPs – one in three of the Parliamentary party – are backing the campaign.
A secret naval design for a replacement for Britannia which was drawn up by naval staff in 1997 and approved by representatives of the royal family before the Labour Government refused to pay for it.
Commander John Prichard, the officer in charge of the project, said that there was no reason why the new design could not be used as a model for a new yacht.
Separately a poll by Saga of nearly 10,000 people has found that only four in 10 – 39 per cent - were not in favour of commissioning a new ship. Forty-two per cent were in favour and 19 per cent did not have a view.
Paul Green, Saga’s director of communications, said: “Boris is batting for Britain and is right to raise the issue of commissioning a new Royal Yacht.”
A Government spokesman said while there are "Government plans for a new yacht", Mr Johnson "was making the point that if it could be done privately he believed it would attract support.
"The important thing is the work the government is doing to forge an ambitious plan to exploit the opportunities that leaving the EU presents, to make Britain a global leader in free trade.
"As you know, the FCO and the Department for International Trade are looking into many options to make sure we get the right trade deals for the UK after we exit the European Union”.