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Why Britain should build Yachty McYachtface

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HMS Defender, in one piece, as it still is, thank goodness. Image: Hammersfan/Creative Commons.

British 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.

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.

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.

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 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 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 ship-building 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.

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. 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.

Which brings us back to the troubling matter of spending money on warships for the aforementioned Royal Navy, 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 navy 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 me?"

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 U.S. Navy 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.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Hammersfan/Creative Commons

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