HMS Defender, in one piece, as it still is, thank goodness (Photo: Hammersfan, Creative Commons).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s big idea to spend hundreds of millions of pounds building a new royal yacht to serve as a floating trade show venue is an excellent project for the new post-Brexit “Global Britain.”

It would be an utter waste of money, of course, and not even the Royal Family wants anything to do with an overpriced seagoing convention hotel, even if it didn’t have to be designed in Finland, as rumour has it.

Boaty McBoatface, which unfortunately ended up being called something else (Image: CNN).

But you have to admit the idea has considerably less potential for deadly mischief than giving the Royal Navy money to build another destroyer to replace the one it almost lost in the Black Sea last Tuesday or, God help us all, another aircraft carrier.

And anything that reduces the chances of the obliteration of humankind in a nuclear holocaust prompted by a combination of post-imperial hubris, anti-European pique and Conservative political machinations would be a good thing.

As Winston Churchill might have said if the late First Lord of the Admiralty were still around to contemplate Boris Johnson and Britain’s current declining place in the world, a floating bar is better than war-war.

HMY Britannia, now mothballed, in 2007 (Photo: Ben Salter, Creative Commons).

Certainly the Russians would be less likely to see it as a provocation if a royal yacht/convention hotel drifted, intentionally or otherwise, into waters they are prepared to defend resolutely, regardless of one’s point of view in the argument over whether Crimea ought to belong to Ukraine or Russia.

This is true even if it turns out that a new royal yacht costs the currently still-barely-United Kingdom a billion dollars. When the idea was floated by Mr. Johnson a month ago, the estimated price tag he plucked from his mind or perhaps some other part of his anatomy was £200 million.

That’s already more than 340 million free-floating Canadian Loonies, and anyone who knows anything about Conservative boondoggles and naval shipbuilding on either side of the Atlantic understands the final price will be considerably north of that when the vessel finally slides goes down the slips to the sea – in Finland, Scotland or whatever foreign ship-building country ends up welding it together.

Finland, ironically, would be ideal for the job because, having ended up on the wrong side in World War II, it built up its shipbuilding industry making icebreakers for the Russians as war reparations. Britain by contrast, victorious and broke, let its once mighty shipyards dwindle in the postwar years. Half its remaining shipyards were shuttered during Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous premiership, as Britain like much of the West completed the transition from building things to generating financial scams. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: Ben Shread, U.K. Cabinet Office).

Before the yacht has exited the Gulf of Finland, even if the pound manages to hold onto its value, that expenditure is bound to have doubled, to say nothing of the cost of operating the vessel, which will push it considerably higher.

Then there is the matter of what to name it. Apparently there’s a school of thought that it should be named for the recently departed Royal Consort. But, arguably, it would be a morale builder for the British population as they struggle with the trade implications of their self-inflicted isolation from Europe, and their historical isolation from their former colonies and most of the rest of the world, to let ordinary Britons have a contest to name the tub.

I grant you, last time that was tried things didn’t turn out quite as happily as expected. Just the same, I’d like to suggest HMY Yachty McYachtface as an excellent name for the new royal yacht. It’s certainly a better option than Britannia III, since it’s doubtful Britannia will even be a thing much longer. 

This raises an interesting side question. Will the previous HMY Britannia still be able to do duty as a tourist trap in Scotland after the next referendum, or will it have to be sent safely south of Hadrian’s Wall along with the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet? But I digress.

Winston Churchill in naval uniform (Photo: L.C. Priest, Royal Navy, Public Domain).

Which brings us back to the troubling matter of spending money on warships for the aforementioned RN, now that it is no position to rule the waves or anything else by the sound of it.

Whatever NATO, the military alliance in pursuit of a mission, would like us to think, intentionally provoking the Russians in the Black Sea is almost as dumb an idea as confronting the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea.

Like China’s Army Navy – which may sound like a retail store specializing in work wear, but is in fact a highly capable regional naval force now able to rule the waves of the South China Sea even in the face of the U.S. Navy – Russian forces in Crimea, on the water, under it, and in the air, effectively make the Black Sea a Russian lake. 

This would be so even if cheap missiles like those the Russians demonstrated in 2015, when they fired them from ships in the Caspian Sea to destroy small targets in Syria, had not all but rendered billion-dollar aircraft carriers obsolete.

So when we ponder HMS Defender’s Black Sea misadventure last week, reportedly approved by Prime Minister Johnson himself, it is wise to remember that any conflict with the Russians there that escalates beyond shots fired across the bow by Coast Guard vessels would end unhappily for the Royal Navy after a very short, exciting day.

If Defender were merely innocently sailing from Ukraine to Georgia as the RN insists, doing it at action stations and loaded for bear is a funny way to go about innocent passage.

Lucky that the destroyer didn’t turn on her targeting radar since, as noted, in that part of the world the bears are loaded for bear as well.

It was also probably lucky for the cause of world peace that the ship that warned off Defender was crewed by Russians, not Canadians or Australians.

We former colonials could not avoid understanding the full significance of the post-imperial disdain in the plummy voice from Defender’s bridge snottily enquiring, “Are you threatening us?”

The Russian replied in imperfect but perfectly clear English, excitedly but not particularly rudely, with a statement that meant in as many words, “no, sir, but I am warning you.”

And if the Russian Coast Guard vessel’s little Gatling gun wasn’t up to the task, there were 30 or so Sukhois in the air, not to mention batteries of anti-ship missiles in Crimea and probably a submarine or two beneath the waves.

So if it had been a Canadian or an Aussie listening to Defender, they would have had a much harder time not sinking it on the spot – with heaven knows what geopolitical consequences.

Indeed, it’s interesting to speculate what the U.S. Navy and Dutch warships in the general vicinity would have done had Defender not promptly departed for undisputed waters. Would the USN be willing to risk trading Chicago or Los Angeles for Boris Johnson’s vanity? Unlikely. 

So, yes, little England should probably get the Finns to work on HMY Yachty McYachtface as quickly as possible. 

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  1. Let’s face it the British haven’t had that much to be hip hip about since the Battle of Waterloo. Most of its military campaigns in the years since have been half disasters or inconclusive. What victories it did achieve they relied heavily on its colonies who stormed enemy trenches in service of the Empire.

    Now it seems Britain’s new carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, is off the South China Sea to flex its muscle against the China. The last time a Royal Navy ship by that name sailed in those waters was sunk by a Japanese air strike in December 1941, a few days after Pearl Harbour. Today the wreckage of that ship and others is being salvaged and used for medical scientific equipment. Turns out the metal manufactured prior to WW2 is quite valuable.

  2. Even the US seems to know any provocations against Russia or China are only for propaganda directed at the home market in the US. Nothing else is possible. Those two countries can do enough damage to end all life in North America if the US starts starts attacking them. That is why the US only attacks third world countries.

      1. Agreed. It’s always a bad plan, though. The boys are seldom home by Christmas. DJC

  3. As the Guardian journalist Marina Hyde points out, in British politics the truth of the matter is irrelevant. All that matters is how popular the political pronouncement is. The leadership of Little England, like Little Alberta has learned this and like the people of Little England, it is everyday Albertans who will pay the price. Global warming? Pipelines! Coal! Mutant Covid variants shutting down the world again? The Calgary Stampede! trumpets Kenney.

    Even Pogo may be hard pressed to find a song for this. Until then I can only offer the poetry of Milton:
    “The sheep look up, but are not fed,
    But swollen with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
    Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread”
    – Lycidas”

    Geez, and its only Tuesday.

  4. Darn good commentary.

    The latest I read on various western military websites is that both the Russians and Chinese are far ahead in the hypersonic missile arms race, let alone the Russian’s superiority in anti-aircraft missile technology. All in reaction to the constant presence of US/NATO bases ringing their territories trying to bully them into accepting the Western way of life of constant personal indebtitude, and just daring them to object. “Your resources is mine” about sums up the oligarchs’ attitude to Russia. On China, having built the place up by offshoring western factories to make doodads, trinkets, TVs and phones on the cheap, now that China is moderately well-off, the alarm bells are ringing back at Plutocracy Central. Hey! They were supposed to stay peasants and work for two bowls of rice a day! They violate human rights! Wah! You have to laugh your head off at the thought of 400 members of our armed forces stationed in Latvia protecting the place from something or other. Russian aggression to retake the place? I can understand some of the paranoia of the country itself because there’s lots of ethnic Russians there and Soviet occupation was a fact, but unlike the natural gas stealers of Ukraine who refused to pay their bills, there doesn’t seem much incentive for Russia to destabilize that country and “protect” ethnic Russians from the crazies. Why bother? Might as well let the paranoid nitwits of NATO waste our taxpayer money and try to justify their existence. The current Dane in charge of NATO looks physically like a man out of Central Casting from the movie Dr Strangelove and is about as cartoonish.

    The Brits are of course as thoroughly brainwashed by past “glories” of Empah as the official American line is about their glorious way of life, coast-to-coast strip malls, bad food, semi-democracy and impeccable human rights with a prison population of well over two million. Actually, the Brits are worse, IMO, and I was born there and went through indoctrination until almost 12 years of age, before my family escaped to Canada. Here, the country’s past colonial sins were not trumpeted, but kept a secret, which tells you how guilty the big boys felt about it. That chap in charge of the British warship in the Black Sea is a typical English dunce, and perhaps never deigns to read military websites, other than that UK Defence Journal you link, where Blighty still rules the sea, haw, haw, old boy! The Russkies don’t scare us! We didn’t change course. The old school tie, rampant classism with mess dinners in full regalia with stewards, and they imagine themselves as modern Horatio Hornblowers. The human joke Boris is of the same class of odious privilege, and has managed to get Brits to vote him as their leader — well, read the one-sided neoliberal press there to get an idea of why. Now alone and adrift in the North Sea by their own hand, about all they have left is proffering a begging bowl in front of the US, and causing as much trouble as possible for no real reason. Building a new Royal Yacht is just a way to divert the masses’ attention from the hole the place is in. It might be a slight stretch to call out nuclear-equipped England as about as stable as India or Pakistan, but awash and alone, you never know what the blighters might get up to next.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the unprecedented heatwave, and the removal of California as a significant food source. Get kenney to sweat in the sun and mouth climate change denial. We seem to be rapidly closing in on an inflection point where the planet cries “Enough!” It’s too late now to do much about it, so the policy of promising anything and not doing much (actually increasing in Canada) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has come to its logical conclusion. We’re screwed, but just don’t realize it yet. Meanwhile, enjoy the tropics in Yukon and on top of our highest mountains.

    1. Thanks, Bill, for your kind words. We need to be cautious about the apparent general consensus the Russians and now the Chinese are far ahead in hypersonic weapons. This may be true, but it may also be another example of the now discredited Kennedy Era “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union. It didn’t exist, at least not in the Soviets’ favour. Grifters will grift, and there’s no grifter like an arms manufacturer. Likewise, we should take with caution claims nowadays that the PLAN is ready to confront the USN on the high seas. That day may come, but not just yet. One final thing: I’m pretty sure Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general and head of marketing for NATO, is a Norwegian. DJC

  5. It’s seems that the real attraction to the Royal Yacht Britannia was that the Queen (of the German House of Saxe-Coberg & Gotha) was on it.

    I’m not sure what the attraction for this yacht will be, apart from the potential for global tours to view raging alcoholism, hooliganism, and the worst dentistry the world has ever seen. Usually, it’s hucksters and grifters who come up with brainstorms like this.

    I can see it all now …

    Premier Crying & Screaming Midget comes up with the idea of selling Alberta to the world from the back of the new “Alberta Global Chuckwagon”. It should only cost a dozen million and another billion or so to keep afloat.

  6. Merrily we roll along
    roll along,
    roll along,
    Merrily we roll along -insert the last words here ……..

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