Rishi Sunak sinks Boris Johnson’s national trade ship ‘vanity project’

Boris Johnson’s dream of a “national flagship” to promote post-Brexit Britain overseas has run aground.

The former British prime minister announced last May that he wanted a new vessel to be “built and commissioned” by the U.K. to help it drum up trade and investment.

It would, his government promised at the time, reflect the country’s post-Brexit “status as an independent trading nation” and help it “seize the opportunities that status presents.”

But the plan has now been shelved by Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s former top finance minister who last month took over as prime minister and is scrambling to find budget reductions across Whitehall.

Speaking in the House of Commons Monday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he had “directed the termination of the national flagship competition with immediate effect,” with the U.K. instead focusing on a so-called Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship (MROS) designed to protect undersea cables from potential Russian aggression.

“It is right that we prioritize delivering capabilities which safeguard our national infrastructure, and clear that to effectively address the current and future threats, we will now invest in a ship that protects sensitive defense infrastructure and civil infrastructure, to improve our ability to detect threats to the seabed and cables.”

The move was seized on by the opposition Labour Party, with Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey telling MPs: “I welcome the defense secretary’s news that the previous prime minister’s vanity project of the flagship will be scrapped and that the switch [in] spending to purposes that will help defend the country has been made.”

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