Bid to put Royal Yacht Britannia back to sea as Brexit ambassador is slammed

Leithers have rubbished proposals to return the Britannia to the high seas to help broker post-Brexit trade deals.

A bid has been launched to send Britannia back to sea. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A bid has been launched to send Britannia back to sea. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The former Royal Yacht berthed in Leith docks regularly tops Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, bringing in 300,000 visitors a year.

But The Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign to relaunch the historic vessel as a “floating nostalgic trade embassy”, with UK shipping minister John Hayes adding that it could help boost Britain.

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The vessel - decommissioned in 1997 by Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government - is estimated to have helped secure £3 billion of trade deals between 1991 and 1995.

But Leithers believe the plans to recommission the ship don’t hold up.

Fraser Parkinson, a city guide and administrator of the Spirit of Leithers website, said: “I thought the sun must be well over the yardarm and too much grog had been given out when I heard of this proposal.

“It’s a sure sign that business and public ratings are bad when Boris and the Telegraph come up with a plan featuring an ex royal yacht and industrialists with bulging wallets all floating on a sea of ‘outdated nostalgia’.

“Britannia is an economic beacon shining over Leith’s hard fought economic revival.

“This has taken three decades to achieve and Britannia has been a significant part of this. It’s a huge bonus to the local economy and is now embedded in the heritage of the old Port.”

The then Lord Provost Eric Milligan was among those who helped put the successful bid together to have the former Royal Yacht berthed in Leith.

He said: “Talks about how it could be put back on the seven seas and carry out its former role as an ambassador ship - I don’t think that’s realistic at all. If the Government are seriously going to consider another Royal Yacht Britannia I don’t think it would be a case of re-floating it - they would need to commission a new yacht altogether.”

He added: “In Edinburgh we can be confident that, for the foreseeable future, the vessel will continue to go from strength to strength doing what she has been doing for the last 12 years.”

Chas Booth, Green councillor for Leith, branded the proposals “half-baked” and an example of “dewy-eyed nostalgia”.

He added: “I don’t believe we should turn the clock back to the 1950s. I don’t believe a 60-year old ship will aid our trade negotiations. And I particularly don’t accept that a successful tourist attraction, which employs many people in Leith and makes a positive contribution to the Edinburgh economy, should be put at risk by some people’s deicer for a return to the 1950s. For the good of the city, this plan should be scuppered, and fast.

Rear Admiral Neil Rankin, the chairman of the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, previously said that relaunching HMY Britannia on the open seas in the 21st century was a “non-starter” not least because she has been shorn of her propellers.

But Jake Berry, Tory MP for Rossendale and Darwen, is set to lead a parliamentary debate next month entitled “Reintroduction of the Royal Yacht Britannia for the purpose of international trade”.