Queen’s request for new Royal Yacht Britannia removed from public scrutiny

Copyright The Times RED BOX 30th January 2019 including picture and text, unless otherwise stated differently.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 after the Labour government took office

The Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 after the Labour government took office




Britannia shown underway dressed on the bow with the Union Jack [Union Flag for all but naval use]; on the stern with the White Ensign, The ensign of the Royal Navy; on the foremast the Flag of a rear admiral whose title was FORY [Flag Officer Royal Yachts - plural because many years ago we had more than one Royal Yacht - in the swan song commission of the final Commander of the Yacht, the rank of the officer was a Commodore, and FORY changed to CORY who flies a Pennant and not a Flag], and on the main and mizzenmasts White Ensign's. When the Sovereign was embarked, Flags/Standard flown were foremast, the Flag of the Lord High Admiral;  mainmast the Royal Standard and the mizzenmast, the Union Jack the Flag of an admiral of the fleet viz Her Majesty, our C-in-C. In this case, the Flag of FORY/Pennant of CORY were not flown.





A commodore 1st class was a rank deleted from the senior officers structure in 1968, so the pennant flown on the Yacht without H.M. aboard in its final commision would have been that or the commodore second class.  A PENDANT usually means something that hangs down, but it can also mean several other things including Identification: in this case an identification that the ship is in commission. Pennant is the modern word [associated with flags/bunting] we use today and have done for a considerable period. The senior officer pennant is rarely used today and instead we denote that by painting the tops of funnels black.



A confidential government file that disclosed how the Queen lobbied for a new royal yacht has become a state secret once more.

The Times revealed a month ago that a senior Buckingham Palace official wrote to the Cabinet Office in 1995 saying that the Queen would “very much welcome” a replacement for the Royal Yacht Britannia, due to be decommissioned. The report was based on a Welsh Office document that had been released into the National Archives, where it was found by Philip Murphy.

The file has now been removed from public view. A note in the catalogue says: “This record is closed whilst access is under review.”

Although government papers are usually made available after a number of years — it was formerly 30 but is being changed to 20 — files relating to the royal family are usually kept secret.

The Welsh Office file’s disappearance was noted by David McClure, who is researching a book on royal finances. When Mr McClure first requested the file this month he was told: “Unfortunately the document you have requested is currently in use so we are unable to make it available for your visit.”

When he submitted another request two weeks later he discovered it was closed. An official told him that she had forwarded his request to the National Archives’ freedom of information team.

Mr McClure said: “They are retrospectively pulling it back. It is symptomatic of an overzealous, overprotective attitude towards royal documents. It is a deferential cringe.”

The file included a letter from the Queen’s deputy private secretary, Sir Kenneth Scott, who said that the Queen would “very much welcome” a new yacht. He added: “The last thing I should like to see is a newspaper headline saying ‘Queen Demands New Yacht’.” Although John Major’s government said that it would replace Britannia, when Labour won power in 1997 Tony Blair decided not to. Britannia was decommissioned that year.

Professor Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, who discovered the document in October, believes that it was overlooked because it was in a relatively “boring” Welsh Office file. He said: “It looks as if the Palace has asked the government why this document was in the public domain, and the government has clawed it back.”

However, sources have said that it was the Cabinet Office — not the Palace — that asked for it to be reviewed.

Professor Murphy said there had been past cases of the government reviewing documents that have been in the public domain. “They have demanded them back, and then redacted them further or retained them, because they had not realised that sensitive stuff was out there,” he said. “There is an absolute ban on material relating to the monarch and the heir to the throne. The vetters are always sensitive about any document that appears to show the Queen’s view on something.”

He said that it was in the public interest to understand how the constitutional monarchy works. “If you say that any document which records a personal opinion by the Queen should be censored, you are robbing the public of the ability to learn anything about the constitutional history of Britain over the last 65 years.”

It remains unclear whether the file has been retained permanently or merely until a decision is made.

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