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Can post-Brexit U.K. lure trade by re-floating Queen's yacht?

LONDON -- The U.K. may be sailing into an uncertain future outside the European Union, but if campaigners have their way, Britannia will rule the waves again.

A Conservative lawmaker and the Daily Telegraph newspaper are proposing to recommission the royal yacht Britannia, former berth of Queen Elizabeth II, and send it around the world as a floating trade mission.

The yacht was retired in 1997, and is now a tourist attraction moored in Edinburgh.

Legislator Jake Berry says it should either be brought back into service or a new yacht built to help “bring in billions of pounds’ worth of trade deals for post-Brexit Britain.”

Anticipating that some will label his idea “a vanity project,” he says it should be funded by donations, rather than taxpayers.

Former Foreign Secretary William Hague has backed Berry’s proposal, saying that when he was in government he found that no one, however wealthy or powerful, could resist an invitation onto the royal yacht.

Workmen carry out painting and repairs on the Royal Yacht Britannia in a dry dock at Forth Ports
Workmen carry out painting and repairs on the Royal Yacht Britannia in a dry dock at Forth Ports, Jan. 13, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Getty

“Leaving the EU means we need to communicate the advantages and attractions of our country more than ever,” Hague wrote in the Telegraph. “That will take a lot more than a yacht, but we need all the reach and profile that we can get.”

Others, however, said bringing back a symbol of empire and monarchy would send the wrong signals about Britain to the world.

“Britannia was always a wisp of denial because, essentially, she sailed through imperial decline,” wrote columnist Tanya Gold in Wednesday’s Guardian newspaper. “Her power was cosmetic. She floated on nostalgia.”

Launched in 1953, Britannia was the last in three centuries of royal yachts, a floating monument to a nation that built an empire on naval power - an empire it was then in the process of losing.

The 412-foot yacht, with its teak deck and brass fittings, traveled more than 1 million miles as transport for royal visits and vacations, a reception venue for dignitaries and the honeymoon vessel for royal couples including Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Her final voyage was to collect the last British governor from Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to China in 1997.

The government of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair decided the cost of replacing Britannia was too high. The royal family, whose popularity was then at a low ebb after a series of scandals, acquiesced - though the queen wiped away tears at the decommissioning ceremony.

Berry has secured a House of Commons debate on the yacht on Oct. 11, though his plan is unlikely to become a reality without government support.

Prime Minister Theresa May has not backed the idea, though when asked about it she said she recognized Britain’s “proud heritage” as a trading nation.

“The important question is how do we get out there and promote Britain, promote Britain as being open for business, promote the interests of people investing in Britain and for our businesses actually exporting overseas,” she said.