A new national flagship championed by Boris Johnson to drive trade deals in post-Brexit Britain is dead after Rishi Sunak pulled the plug on the £250million publicly funded project, The Telegraph can disclose.
The two private consortia bidding for the work were told this morning that the project is being axed. An announcement is expected from the Ministry of Defense as soon as Monday afternoon.
There was hope today that at least one of the finals bids can now attract private funding.
The decision is the first major cut in spending ahead of the Autumn Statement which is set to ax tens of billions from government spending on Thursday next week.
‘Sad but inevitable’
One source close to the project told The Telegraph scheme could not be justified given the stress on the defense budget from the war in Ukraine: “This is sad news but it was inevitable given the war in Ukraine. The business case was there but like so many good projects it cannot be progressed at this time.”
Two British companies – Harland & Wolff and Houlder Ltd – had been battling it out to design the new ship from a long list of 19 schemes.
The new flagship had been slated to launch “in the last quarter of 2024”, entering service in late 2025.
It would have dwarfed the Royal Yacht Britannia in both bulk and manpower, with a minimum of 11,000 tons and requiring just 70 crew.
This compared to HMY Britannia – controversially decommissioned by Tony Blair – which weighs nearly 6,000 tonnes and required 250 yachtsmen to sail.
‘Anything but a vanity project’
The design work had been funded privately by the two companies. However, £2.5million had been spent by the taxpayer running the project, comprising mainly a team of Ministry of Defense officials.
Defense secretary Ben Wallace had been an enthusiastic supporter of the project. He told The Telegraph as recently as July last year: “It is anything but a vanity project. All the doomsters slagging it off, I bet they are exactly the same people that slagging off the Olympics in 2012.”
Mr Wallace’s hope had been that the new flagship could be like a floating embassy, a place where world leaders can convene to agree trade deals that can showcase the best of British engineering, powered by the most up-to-date “green technology”.
The Telegraph has been campaigning since September 2016 for a replacement for HMY Britannia, shortly after Britain voted to leave the European Union. The Ministry of Defense was approached for comment.