Bring Back Britannia

North Wiltshire MP James Gray has backed the campaign for a new royal yacht to project the UK's unique soft power and influence around the globe now that we are leaving the European Union.

Mr Gray said:

“Now is the time to consider how post-Brexit Britain projects herself on the world stage.”

“The view of many people around the country is that the Government should commission a new Royal Yacht Britannia. It would be designed and built in the UK to showcase post-Brexit Britain and bring trade to our shores.”

“That’s why I am pleased to support this campaign and urge the Government to ‘Bring Back Britannia’.”

The previous Royal Yacht - HMY Britannia - was controversially decommissioned by Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 1997 after more than 40 years in service.

HMY Britannia conducted 968 official visits and clocked up more than a million miles at sea. On her last deployment to the Far East commercial trade deals worth some £2.75bn were signed on board to the benefit of the UK.

Paid for by a new lottery along with other complementary sources of funding, there will be no call upon departmental budgets to pay for the vessel which is estimated to cost around £120m.

And in a letter organised by Craig Mackinlay MP and supported by 50 MPs, including Mr Gray, the MPs envisage both Government Ministers and the Royal Family alike could host diplomatic and commercial events on the new Royal Yacht to further raise Britain’s profile internationally and secure new trade opportunities.

South Thanet MP, Craig Mackinlay, commented:

“The new Royal Yacht must belong to the state so it has the benefit of diplomatic immunity when it visits international harbours around the globe. It has to fly the white ensign because it is crucial that it is crewed by our Royal Navy. And it has to have a strong connection with our royal family as that is the unique quality that will make its service to our nation succeed.

“To be achievable, we need to generate the money to build a new Royal Yacht. One way of doing this might be to establish a new national lottery to help pay for the new vessel and that is what I am urging the Government to introduce. And as there will be no call upon departmental budgets, we will be investigating other complementary sources of funding from business leaders who are supportive of the project.”

“I was delighted to welcome The Royal Wootton Bassett Gin Company to Parliament last night. Dauntless Gin is absolutely delicious and I strongly recommend it. The Royal Wootton Bassett Gin Company is already a great local success story but I am convinced it will soon be a national one”.

North Wiltshire MP James Gray was speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions Christmas reception in Westminster last night.

The Royal Wootton Bassett Gin Company Ltd, which produces Dauntless (a London Dry Gin) is run by a local Royal Wootton Bassett family, and aims to be one of the UK’s most popular premium gin brands. Twenty percent of profits go to two charities, Combat Stress and the Cavell Nurses’ Trust.

“I was honoured and delighted to welcome leading representatives of Inuit, Gwich’in and Saami peoples of the Arctic to Parliament, for what I believe is the first time in its thousand-year history. I was incredibly moved by their personal testimonies about how their lives are being impacted by the effects of climate change and development in the Arctic”.

Mr Gray was speaking after the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions hosted a meeting in Parliament, which gave Okalik Eegeesiak (Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council), Jannie Staffansson (who works for the Saami Council), and Sarah James (an elder of the Gwich’in Nation) a rare opportunity to speak directly to British parliamentarians about how they are adapting to changes in the Arctic. The speakers were brought to London by WWF UK.

The UK is the Arctic’s nearest neighbour and has a long history of political and economic ties to the region, but, like many other developed nations, it has also been a source of pollution that has affected life in the Arctic and contributed more broadly to global climate change (the effects of which are much more impactful in the far north). There are some 4 million people living in the Arctic, around 500,000 of whom belong to one of the region’s many indigenous groups.

Mr Gray added: “If the UK is to be a good neighbour, Parliament and Government needs to listen to voices from the Arctic and do what it can to support a more inclusive approach to development in the region. I hope that this will be reflected in the Government’s revisions to the Arctic Policy Framework next year”.

Following the incredible public support for Sir David Attenborough’s call to arms to back greater protections in our oceans during the BBC’s recent Blue Planet II, North Wiltshire MP James Gray took steps to press the Government to be unrelenting in its efforts to lead the world in marine conservation and establish a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protected areas in all of the world’s oceans. 

Mr Gray told fellow MPs during his Westminster Hall debate on the Blue Belt Programme and Marine Protected Areas yesterday that: “The Government’s Blue Belt Programme is a fantastic opportunity for us to do what is right in in the waters around Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and our 14 Overseas Territories”.

The Government launched the Blue Belt Programme in 2016 with the aim of working with the UK’s Overseas Territories to create a network of Marine Protected Areas covering some two million square miles of marine environment. Already, Marine Protected Areas have been established around South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands, St Helena and Pitcairn. The Government has further committed to designate Marine Protected Areas around Ascension and Tristan da Cunha by 2020.  

Mr Gray also said: “The important point about Brexit is that it must not mean a lessening of any of the environmental standards in our oceans. Her Majesty’s Government must commit to ensuring that they are all higher than would have been the case had we remained a member of the EU”.

The Brexit negotiations seem to be nearing a denouement, allowing us to move on to the - perhaps easier - territory of trade talks. Mutual rights for each other’s citizens seems easy. The Irish Border question is trickier. But the border having been open since the 1920s (with the exception of during the Troubles), it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a solution. Smuggled goods and illegal immigrants would both remain precisely that, and therefore unable to enter the UK’s mainstream. Smugglers and people traffickers exist already, and are of course simply breaking the law.

The Brexit Bill is much more troublesome. I do absolutely accept that Britain, as a responsible nation must meet our old Treaty obligations. We must separate out our assets and liabilities, as would any business which was de-merging. That is a pretty technical matter for accountants. I may be persuadable that some of the obligations we entered into while we are members should remain a partial liability (although some of them sound pretty questionable.) But should there be a further ‘good will’ sum on top of that? £50 Billion sounds to me excessive. But to look at it another way, it’s about three to four years’ worth of our net contributions, and so may be the price we have to pay to escape from the smothering octopus of the EU. We will know more within days.

However, if we are generous with our Brexit Bill, I will be even less inclined to accept the deep cuts in our defence spending which are rumoured. I have been giving the Government a very hard time over this in recent days and weeks, and have promised to rebel over it unless they listen. Perhaps that is why following a dressing down by the permanent secretary in the MOD last week, Chief of the General Staff pulled out of a breakfast briefing I was hosting this Wednesday. The permanent secretary may well be nervous of 60 or so MPs on the warpath.

The Chief of the Air Staff knew no such nervousness when he came into Parliament last week for a grand reception in Mr Speakers State Apartments followed by a simply superb parade by the Queen’s Colours Squadron and RAF Band. It was in celebration of the centenary (to the day) of the Royal Assent to the Act establishing the RAF, the original which we had on display. I was proud to take the salute alongside CAS and Viscount Trenchard, the grandson of the founder of the RAF. What a great occasion.

The fact is that the world is a more dangerous place than it has ever been; and we simply cannot afford to cut our forces any further. They are stretched to the limit, and the Treasury must dig deep and pay up. We spend 2% of GDP on defence at the moment- the NATO minimum. Many of us would like to see that progressively rise to 3% if we are to meet our international obligations and keep our shores safe.

In amongst all of that comes the very welcome Harry and Meghan news. Nothing cheers the Nation up so much as a good old Royal Wedding knees-up. When it comes next Spring, we may well be in great need of it.

We all wish Their Royal Highnesses a long and happy marriage.