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‘Absolutely idiotic!’ Michael Portillio was torn apart by Prince Philip over Royal Yacht

Queen carries tribute to Prince Philip with her at all times

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Mr Portillo has become better known for his railway adventures than his time in British politics in recent years. He has graced our screens in a number of programmes, bringing the sights of the world through a carriage window into our homes. Before this, however, he had a long and comparatively successful time in Government, including a stint as Defence Secretary.

Here, he pressed for a course of what was known as “clear blue water” ‒ a set of purist policies separating the Conservatives from the Labour Party.

He was also part of the decision-making process that led to the beloved Royal Yacht Britannia being decommissioned after 22 years of service in order to save money.

It was because of this that Prince Philip became enraged with Mr Portillo, branding his involvement in the debacle as “absolutely idiotic”.

The Daily Mail’s royal correspondent Robert Hardman wrote in 2011: “Then-Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, produced a new policy and got it past a weary Cabinet: if re-elected, the Tories would build a new Royal Yacht.

“However, Mr Portillo had omitted to follow one important convention regarding royal issues.

“He failed to clear the plan with the Labour Opposition.

“So, day after day on the election trail, old-style Labour politicians like John Prescott gleefully extolled the scrapping of what was presented as a millionaire’s toy.

“The fact that Britannia had originally been commissioned by a Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was never mentioned.

“As the Duke of Edinburgh observed some years later: ‘Portillo got involved and made a complete b******s of it. Absolutely idiotic.’”

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Mr Hardman claimed Philip’s anger was plain during the decommissioning ceremony, which took place in Portsmouth in 1997, with the Queen also seen shedding a tear.

Tony Blair, who had only recently become Prime Minister when the yacht was decommissioned, later admitted that he deeply regretted scrapping the vessel.

Mr Hardman added: “What the Royal Family may find particularly intriguing – and infuriating – 14 years later, is that Tony Blair now deeply regrets his part in it.

“As he tells me: ‘I think if it had happened five years into my time [as Prime Minister], I would have just said ‘no’. I’ll tell you this,’ he says, lowering his voice, ‘I didn’t want to get rid of it.

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“After we’d agreed to get rid of it, I actually went on it and I remember, as I stepped on, thinking: ‘That was such a mistake to have done that.’

“‘And I think it was Prince Charles who was showing me around and I could see him thinking: ‘Thank you for that.’”

Lord Dannatt, one of the Queen’s former advisers, told the Daily Telegraph in 2017 that axing Royal Britannia caused “great hurt” to Her Majesty but also did “lasting damage to the standing of the United Kingdom”.

It is not the only time Mr Portillo has been outspoken regarding the royals.

In 2002, he called for a more relevant Royal Family, and urged that it be reformed to “ensure its relevance and place in the modern world”.

He said the Conservative leadership — at that time Iain Duncan Smith — should call for an overhaul of the Royal Family’s workings as part of a symbolic break with the party’s past, similar to Labour’s abolition of Clause Four.

In a speech in Oxford, he said it was time to enter the debate about how to achieve a more modern Royal Family, and added: “The Conservative Party, which is inextricably committed to the monarchy, should be the party that is willing to discuss reforming the monarchy, and to making sure the British people are able to respect the institution.

“We should be the party that ensures its place in the modern world.”

Great Coastal Railway Journeys airs at 6:30pm on BBC Two. 

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