A secret letter written by the Queen shows how the monarch tearfully lobbied the Cabinet Office for a replacement for the royal yacht Britannia after it was decommissioned 1997 in order to avoid a public backlash over the expensive vessel.
The Britannia was launched at the beginning of the Queen’s reign and was furnished to her taste – but decades later it had become too expensive to maintain, and increasingly hard to justify to the public.
The royal yacht – the jewel in the Queen’s beloved fleet – was decommissioned in 1997, with then Prime Minister John Major announcing it would be retired from service in 1995.
The Queen famously shed a tear when the boat, which was valued at around £60million, was taken out of service in 1997.
But shortly after Mr Major made the announcement, senior Buckingham Palace official Sir Kenneth Scott wrote to the Cabinet Office, detailing how the Queen “would very much welcome” a new yacht – but also acknowledged that the Queen’s lobbying would be unpopular with the public if her letter came to light.
The letter, discovered in the National Archives by University of London professor Phillip Murphy and dated May 5, 1995, read:
“I have deliberately taken a back seat in recent correspondence, since the question of whether there should be a replacement yacht is very much one for the Government and since the last thing I would like to see is a newspaper headline saying ‘Queen Demands New Yacht’.”
“At the same time I hope it is clear to all concerned that this reticence on the part of the palace now way implies that Her Majesty is not deeply interested in the subject; on the contrary, the Queen would naturally very much welcome it if a way could be found of making available for the nation in the 21st Century the kind of service which Britannia has provided for the last 43 years.”
In 2003, a source told the Sunday Telegraph that the monarch would have never put pressure on the government over a politically sensitive subject, saying: “Neither the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh have ever expressed an opinion on the way the issue was handled and nor would they do so.”
But the note from Mr Scott, the queen’s private secretary, revealed her “deep interest” in finding a replacement for the beloved vessel.
Professor Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said of his letter discovery: “It is clear that behind the scenes the palace, which had been closely informed of the progress of discussions, was keen to keep the issue alive and was putting discreet pressure on Whitehall to come up with some alternative proposals.”
Britannia was originally meant to be broken into parts on the request of Prince Philip and used in a new yacht, among a host of other options after the vessel was taken off waters.
However, a new vessel was never commissioned to replace Britannia, following opposition from Tony Blair’s Labour Government, who used the issue as part of their election winning campaign in 1997.
But lobbying for a replacement vessel has continued to this day, while the original ship is berthed at Leith in Edinburgh, where it has become a tourist attraction.
In 2017, 50 Tory MP’s signed an open letter proposing a special national lottery to raise around £120 million for a new yacht as a “symbol of Global Britain” after the UK leaves the EU in 2019.