January 16, 2012 / 1:37 PM / 6 years ago

UK government sinks royal yacht idea for queen

<p>Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Edward arrive for a Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church on the Royal estate at Sandringham, Norfolk in east England, December 25, 2011.Suzanne Plunkett</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's coalition government poured cold water on suggestions from a minister that taxpayers should fund a new royal yacht for Queen Elizabeth to mark her 60th year on the throne despite Britons dealing with severe austerity measures themselves.

The queen bade a sad farewell to the royal family's much-loved yacht Britannia in 1997 and Education Secretary Michael Gove recommended replacing it as a significant gesture to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, the Guardian newspaper reported.

"My suggestion would be a gift from the nation to her majesty; thinking about (Universities Minister) David Willetts' excellent suggestion of a royal yacht, and something tangible to commemorate this momentous occasion," the paper quoted his letter as saying.

The letter did make reference to Britain's current economic woes, but added that despite "and perhaps because of the austere times," the Jubilee celebrations should be greater than any that had gone before.

However, his idea was immediately scuppered by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg.

"I don't think this would be an appropriate use of public money given the state of the nation's finances," Cameron's spokesman told reporters.

Commentators said a taxpayer-funded new yacht for the royals would not have gone down well with the public who are facing spending cuts, rising taxes, pay freezes, high inflation, and job uncertainty as Britain's economy struggles out of recession.

Clegg joked the issue would be about "the haves, and the have yachts."

"Most people in the country would think the diamond jubilee is a wonderful occasion for us to celebrate together as a community and as a nation," Clegg told reporters.

"But I suspect that most people in the country would think, given that there is very little money around, that this probably would not be the top of their list of priorities for the use of scarce public resources."

Britannia, a 6,000-tonne ship with a crew of 230, was decommissioned shortly after Tony Blair's Labour party came to power in 1997. Media reported the queen cried when she bade it farewell, the only time she has shed tears in public.

At the time the Conservative Party had called for a replacement yacht -- at an estimated cost of some 60 million pounds ($90 million) -- but a poll showed 72 percent of Britons disapproved of using public money for it.

Buckingham Palace said it had no comment on the story.

Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Paul Casciato

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