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Critics torpedo idea of British taxpayers buying new royal yacht

January 17, 2012 |  1:37 pm

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Should Queen Elizabeth II have a new royal yacht to celebrate her diamond jubilee and replace her beloved Britannia, the graceful vessel that carried her and the royal family on vacations, honeymoons and state visits until 1997?

Maybe. But it won’t be paid for by any loyal subjects, say her prime minister and many of her cash-strapped fellow Britons. And she might have to share it.

Word that Education Secretary Michael Gove had called for giving the queen a new yacht to mark the 60th anniversary of her monarchy was leaked to the Guardian newspaper and raised an uproar in the media Tuesday.

The Guardian reported Monday that Gove had written to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in September that despite “and perhaps because of the austere times,” jubilee celebrations “should go beyond … previous jubilees.” Gove suggested “a gift from the nation to her majesty … a royal yacht” as “something tangible to commemorate this momentous occasion.”

Should there be insufficient taxpayer funds for the $90-million proposal, he wrote, private donations could be sought.

A firm no to any taxpayer funding came quickly from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, but his press office said Tuesday that there could be support for a privately funded proposal.

Less inhibited critics vented wrath over the idea of a royal yacht, with the left-leaning Guardian leading the way. Gove’s idea had “Marie Antoinette echoes,” said its editorial.

“Britannia II will not rule the waves,” said a piece in Tuesday’s Independent editorial.

Ed West, a commentator in the conservative Telegraph, blogged: “I have to say that in these times of financial austerity and belt-tightening, I would have imagined … a campaign to buy one of the world’s richest women a new pleasure boat would be a charity that might struggle.”

“We don’t have any comment,” said a Buckingham Palace spokesperson.

Separately, plans are afoot for a privately funded ship that the royal family would share with others, reportedly funded with an initial anonymous Canadian donation of about $12 million.

The Guardian and Daily Mail on Tuesday reported the launch of a funding drive for the proposal by a charity group called Future Ship Project 21st Century. The donations would pay for a new vessel that would multi-task as a royal yacht, a training ship for sailing students, a facility for scientific research and a host for exhibits and trade events when in port.

Complete with helipad, the vessel would make legendary French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso “look like a bathtub," wrote the Daily Mail. "And when the queen and other members of the royal family need a majestic floating residence from which to promote Britain, it will be there.”


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Photo: The royal yacht Britannia steams past the new extension of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in 1997. It was decommissioned in December that year. Credit: Dan Groshong / AFP/Getty Images