Plans to build a new royal yacht to drive post-Brexit trade deals have been scrapped with immediate effect.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told MPs in the Commons on Monday he has terminated competition to build the flagship.
The project was launched by Boris Johnson's government in May 2021 as a way to "promote the best of British", and the vessel was expected to cost the taxpayer £250 million.
The then prime minister said it would show off "the UK's burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation" after Brexit.
It would have been the first national flagship since the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997.
But as chancellor Jeremy Hunt prepares to make up to £35 billion in spending cuts on 17 November, the national flagship plan was sunk by Rishi Sunak's administration.
The ship was going to be named after the late Prince Philip and would have been used to host trade fairs, ministerial summits and diplomatic talks.
But it has faced criticism from MPs at a time when there are other priorities for defence spending.
It was expected to be constructed in the UK and take to the water in 2024 or 2025, and would have toured the world as a “floating embassy”.
Mr Wallace told MPs he was prioritising the procurement of the multi-role ocean surveillance ship (MROSS) instead of the flagship.
“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.
That meant he had “also directed the termination of the national flagship competition with immediate effect to bring forward the first MROSS ship in its place”. Mr Wallace told MPs the MROSS would “protect sensitive defence infrastructure and civil infrastructure” and “improve our ability to detect threats to the seabed and cables”. Shadow defence secretary John Healey welcomed the news that the “previous prime minister’s vanity project” has been scrapped and the spending switched to “purposes that will help defend the country”.
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The Daily Telegraph, which has been campaigning for a replacement for Britannia, reported the two private consortia bidding for the work were told on Monday morning that the project is being axed. The Commons Defence Committee warned in 2021 there was “no evidence of the advantage to the Royal Navy of acquiring the national flagship”.
It added the initial expenditure of around £250 million, combined with the £20–30 million a year running costs and providing a crew, would pile extra pressure on the senior service.