John Major dithered over replacing Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia amid fears of a backlash in the wake of two high-profile Royal divorces, newly declassified papers reveal.
Documents from the National Archives show that the Major administration was concerned at potential public anger over the cost of a replacement vessel.
In March 1996, Sir John’s private secretary, Alex Allan, described his boss’s rationale in a note marked ‘Confidential’: ‘In the light of the current debate about the Royal Family and the Monarchy, the Prime Minister did not feel it was the right time to take a decision on a new Royal Yacht.
John Major dithered over replacing Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia amid fears of a backlash in the wake of two high-profile Royal divorces, newly declassified papers reveal
‘The matter should, however, be kept under regular review: once the divorce between the Prince and Princess of Wales had been completed, for example, public sentiment could turn quickly.’
The Government finally decided to replace Britannia from public funding in January 1997, but the plan was reversed by Tony Blair when he was elected to Downing Street four months later.
The Queen, however, is said to have reserved the largest share of the blame for Sir John, with an official history of the yacht in 2003 pointing the finger at his delay in making a decision.
Sir John later said: ‘Ask yourself this question. In the midst of the recession, with the British people facing economic hardship, how popular would it have been to announce a £50 million spend on a new yacht for the personal use of the Royal Family?’
Documents from the National Archives show that the Major administration was concerned at potential public anger over the cost of a replacement vessel
The 412ft Britannia was launched in 1953 and served the Queen for state visits abroad.
It was also used by other Royals, including Charles and Diana on their honeymoon.
The vessel is now a tourist attraction in Edinburgh’s port of Leith and welcomes 390,000 visitors a year.
Widespread debate had opened up about the funding of the Royal Family as the marriages of Prince Charles (pictured with Princess Diana) and Prince Andrew fell apart
Successive Prime Ministers, including David Cameron and Boris Johnson, have reportedly considered proposals to commission a new Royal Yacht but the plans have not materialised.
Although Charles and Diana’s divorce was not finalised until August 1996, their ‘amicable separation’ had been announced by Sir John in the Commons in December 1992.
The marriage between Andrew and Sarah Ferguson was formally dissolved in May 1996, four years after they parted company.