HMS Brexit is heading for tragedy

14 Oct 2016

It is difficult to know where to begin in criticising the campaign to recommission the Royal Yacht Britannia.


You could start by looking at the £100 million price tag on replacing the yacht, or the fact several Tory MPs debated the motion instead of attending a debate on the Syrian civil war.


Or, you could skip straight through to the notion that a ship “secured £3 billion of trade deals between 1991 and 1995” – a feat which would surely make it a better foreign secretary than Boris Johnson.


Full of hubris, Jake Berry the MP for Rossendale and Darwen called the royal yacht “a small piece of Britain” which is accurate in that following Brexit, Britain will no longer function and will exist only as a visitor’s attraction. Perhaps instead of dredging up relics from the past, he and the Tories would do better to focus on preserving the small pieces of Britain that we still have – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Tory MP Flick Drummond was quick to remind us that “80 per cent of all world trade is sea-borne”; presumably therefore the royal yacht’s time will be spent at sea, hailing European ships and directing them to British ports. She is right however, that Britain’s trade relationships with our neighbours are crucially important. If only there were some pre-existing trade agreements in place or some sort of economic union, which allowed a group of countries to trade with one another without swapping business-cards at a floating cocktail bar.


While condemning the British media for idiotically translating the yacht’s cost into numbers of hospitals or teachers, Sir Gerald Howarth casually remarked that the money to construct the yacht should come from Britain’s foreign aid budget. That may sound self-centred, but I suppose if you are going to neglect drowning migrants in the Mediterranean, you might as well do it in style. Spending other people’s money on ourselves is a novel idea, but the royal family have been doing it for centuries and will no doubt quickly familiarise themselves with the concept.


Most worrying is the idea that a restored HMY Britannia will become a symbol of post-Brexit Britain. I, for one, would like a Britain which can accommodate more than 250 guests at a time and has a range of influence greater than 2,400 nautical miles.


British symbols are important, although it is important to remember we do actually already have some. The pound sterling, for example, which has fallen disastrously this week as a result of Brexit fears. The good news is that new plastic fivers have a picture of Winston Churchill on them. The bad news is that the only exports we have to offer are “blood, toil, tears and sweat”.


If there was indeed a ship capable of symbolising Brexit Britain it would not be HMY Britannia but a larger and grander ship that would claim to be unsinkable.  It would plough on through difficult waters, ignoring warnings and changes in the weather, and it definitely would not have enough lifeboats.  Like the Titanic, Britain is heading straight towards an economic iceberg capable of sinking it below the waterline. Rather than correct course, Theresa May has chosen to go full steam ahead towards a hard Brexit. Our faith in the good old British institutions, our banks and our businesses may not be enough to stop the tragedy that we are headed towards.


The royal yacht campaign signifies everything wrong with Brexit – it is nostalgic, blind patriotism which assures us that against whatever adversity, Britain will overcome through our superior British values. Unlike the danger which Winston Churchill’s Britain faced, the one we face now is entirely of our own making.



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