The UK has on Wednesday called for bids from British shipbuilders for the construction of its new national flagship.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking during the National Flagship Engagement Day event in historic Greenwich, England, brushed off criticism saying the vessel will help Britain to show off around the world.
Announced in May 2021 to serve as a global trade mission and British flagship the vessel was originally projected in 2019 to cost £120 million ($167 million).
The cost estimates have now risen to between £200 and £250 million ($270 and $350 million) turning the vessel into a political issue. Critics are calling the ship a distraction and waste of British taxpayers’ money with the Labour Party threatening to scrap the project, while Johnson said it will be a symbol of national pride and will be used to attract foreign investment.
The new flagship is being looked at as a successor to Britain’s famed Royal Yacht Britannia that served as the home of Queen Elizabeth II from its commissioning in 1954 until its retirement in 1997.
During that time, it also served as a floating embassy, conducted humanitarian missions in the name of the Queen, and also served as a trade mission.
The competition for the construction bids officially opened on Wednesday and will run till October being overseen by the Ministry of Defense, which issued the formal invitation to tender.
By positioning the ship as a military vessel, the government has managed to get around rules requiring that the bidding be opened to the international shipbuilding community. The vessel will officially be part of the navy and will be crewed by 80 Royal Navy sailors.
“Our new National Flagship will be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of our upcoming National Shipbuilding Strategy,” said Defense Secretary Ben Wallace speaking at the event in Greenwich.
He said that the flagship project will “showcase to the country and the world just what British shipbuilding is capable of – innovative design, competitive build, quality service.”
Wallace also addressed media reports of cost overruns of 25 percent or more on the project saying that he aimed to commission the ship for between £200 and £250 million.
“The competition will run until the end of October,” Wallace said. “I hope to announce the winners in December. To begin construction in a British shipyard as early as next year and have a ship in the water by 2024 or 2025. That’s an ambitious timescale, but this is an ambitious project – the chance to break the mold and break some records to get things done in the national interest.”