A new £100million Royal Yacht Britannia would attract “overwhelming support” and will be considered by the Government, Boris Johnson has said.
The Foreign Secretary’s remarks are the first time that a Government minister has backed the campaign for a new ship at the despatch box in the House of Commons.
The positive nature of the comments are a significant move forward in thinking by ministers and come after months of campaigning by Tory MPs and The Daily Telegraph for a replacement for Britannia, which was decommissioned by Tony Blair's Labour Government 20 years ago.
In a debate on the Budget last night, Mr Johnson told MPs: “I believe that measures such as a new royal yacht, it is one of a number of measures that I am sure this Government will be able to consider.
“It is my view that it would indeed add greatly to the soft power of this country, a soft power which is already very considerable.”
The Foreign Secretary made clear that the replacement for the royal yacht would have to be funded by private backers.
He added: “The new Britannia should not be a call on the taxpayer, if it can be done privately I am sure it would attract overwhelming support.”
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 are estimated at £10million a year.
The remarks from Mr Johnson go further than last October when he told a committee of MPs that “regretfully” a new royal yacht was “not a Government priority”.
Mr Johnson was responding to a question in the Commons from Tory MP Jake Berry who has been campaigning for a new royal yacht backed by private investment for months.
Mr Berry told MPs that the new yacht “for Her Majesty the Queen” would be a “floating trade mission to be used by industry around the globe in the interests of our nation”.
Speaking afterwards Mr Berry said: “The Foreign Secretary has confirmed conversations I have been having with the Government.
“The Government is finally beginning to recognise the value a new royal yacht can make to Britain and to her trading around the world after Brexit.”
Commodore Anthony Morrow, the last commanding officer of the royal yacht before she was decommissioned in 1997, welcomed the comments.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “These remarks by Boris Johnson show the Government is clearly aware of the significance of a future royal yacht supporting UK business interests at home and abroad. This would be greatly welcomed by people up and down the country.”
The Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign to return a modern-day version of HMY Britannia to the seas to help secure trade deals once Britain has left the European Union.
Around 100 Tory MPs – one in three of the Parliamentary party – are backing the campaign, including former Cabinet minister Michael Gove.
The vessel – which retired from service in 1997 - is estimated to have played a role in securing £3billion-worth of trade deals between 1991 and 1995. A replacement is expected to cost £100million.
The Daily Telegraph has disclosed details of a secret naval design for a replacement for Britannia which was drawn up by naval staff 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.