In truth, Britain has done just fine without the Britannia. While Queen Elizabeth II famously wiped away a tear when she attended the yacht’s decommissioning ceremony, the royal family has been resolutely silent about replacing it. According to The Daily Mail, it demurred at a proposal to name the new vessel the Duke of Edinburgh, after the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, who died in April. The duke, a former naval officer, had a hand in designing the original Britannia.
Under the influence of Prince Charles, the royal family has become sensitive to showy displays of wealth, particularly when they drain the public purse. The queen, who is 95, does not travel overseas anymore, so the yacht would be used by her heir, Charles, and his son, Prince William, neither of whom have her emotional connection to the Britannia.
Some question whether the whole concept of a royal yacht is superannuated in an era in which Britain is negotiating complex bilateral trade agreements with Australia, the United States, and other countries.
“At the very most, it could be useful as a trade promotion tool,” said Sam Lowe, a trade expert at the Center for European Reform in London. “But it won’t make even the tiniest difference to whether U.K. concludes a trade deal or not.”
Nor does the yacht have an obvious military purpose, even if the defense ministry would be likely to supply its crew and foot at least part of the bill for its operation.
But all of this may be missing the point. Andrew Gimson, one of Mr. Johnson’s biographers, said his pet projects — whether groovy retro buses or garden-topped bridges — invariably serve a political purpose. Mr. Johnson, he said, is akin to a Roman emperor putting on public spectacles. A royal yacht evokes the glories of Britain’s imperial past for a country still groping for a post-Brexit identity.