June 26th, 2015
Having to hitch rides and borrow other people’s jets when travelling abroad is embarrassing. Where’s our national pride?
Look, I know we can’t afford the £38.5bn rail upgrade, we are living through tough times. We may all be in it together, but the Queen flying to Germany on a State visit in a plane marked “G-THFC” ? Tottenham Hotspur Football Club? Oh, come on! (The aircraft is owned the Club’s chairman).
Yes, I know the pilot stuck the Royal Standard up outside the cockpit window as the plane taxied to a halt by the red carpet in Berlin, but it really couldn’t hide the sad reality.
What has happened to our nation’s swank?
It all started to go wrong when the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in December of 1997 – one of the first acts of the Blair Government. The Royal Yacht had style as well as swank.
And it served a purpose. During its life, it made 696 foreign visits carrying not just the Royal Family, but acting as a mobile Exhibition Centre for British goods and services worldwide. It was the embodiment of the nation’s prestige.
But with the decommissioning of the Yacht, at least we had the Queen’s Flight, later the Royal Squadron, to convey the Monarch, her family, and members of the Government worldwide. But that is now a shadow of its former self. We no longer have dedicated aircraft capable of transatlantic or any other long haul flights yet it was the United Kingdom which first introduced dedicated air transport for the Head of State back in 1928.
How very different from other countries. I am not just talking about the fleet of beautifully liveried aircraft provided for the US Government which includes Air Force One. Or the Airbus A330-200 used by the President of the strike ridden French Republic. And needless to say, Angela Merkel and her government have access to eleven specialist aircraft each with dedicated communication equipment on board.
Greece – yes, Greece – has a Prime Ministerial jet operated by the Hellenic Air Force as does Morocco. I could go on.
Instead, the Queen arrives on a State visit in a Tottenham Hotspur aircraft while our Prime Minister and the rest of the Government either hire aircraft off British Airways or travel on scheduled routes. The latter makes good sense. But not always.
A senior minister has told me that he frequently has to hitch lifts with the Germans or others because there just aren’t the scheduled routes available when he attends conferences in oil states in the Caucuses. While money is tight, surely there has to be some limit to all this scrimping and saving? Do we have no national pride when it comes to foreign visits?
When Tony Blair raised this, he was howled down with cries of “Blair Force One” and no doubt I shall be accused of being foolish and insensitive in even writing about our national humiliation.
But Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world. We need to project our influence through soft power, and sometimes that does mean spending a little money. We are now the only country in the G20 without a dedicated jet aircraft for our Head of State and Head of Government.
So if we can’t reinstate the Royal Yacht, let’s at least introduce a dual purpose aircraft which can be used for HM Queen on Royal Visits and be used by the RAF on other occasions.
Let’s bring back some swank!
(Post updated with photograph 15.11.20)