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1SL Remarks for HMS Queen Elizabeth first entry to Portsmouth

16 August 2017
It’s a huge privilege to welcome you to Her Majesty’s Naval Base Portsmouth.

This is the oldest of the Royal Navy’s three dockyards and has witnessed many great events over the centuries.

Those of a certain age, me amongst them, will remember the extraordinary scenes from the spring of 1982 as a Royal Navy Task Group – led by a previous generation of aircraft carriers – left this place for the long journey to the South Atlantic, to return a few months later having turned a potential national disaster into an audacious triumph.

In the same year, the nation held its breath as the magnificent timber skeleton of Henry VIII’s flagship emerged from below the waves after more than 400 years on the seabed.

Today, we are gathered to witness another seminal moment in the long history of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

In the golden years of the second Elizabeth age, a new era of British maritime power is beginning.

And in fifty years’ time, people in Portsmouth will still talk about the day they saw this 65,000 tonne giant arrive for the first time.

QE Development

It’s remarkable to think that all this was set in train 20 years ago, when the need for a new generation of large aircraft carriers was first recognised.

I’d like to thank my predecessors, several of whom are here today, for having the vision and the tenacity to see this project through.

During the construction phase, this project has involved six shipyards, including here, as well as businesses both large and small all around the country.

It’s been part of an unfolding renaissance in our maritime industries, from Devon to Fife, on the Tyne and on the Mersey. For hundreds of apprentices, it represents the start of an exciting new career in an area of historic and future strength for the United Kingdom.

Within the Royal Navy and within British industry, a generation has dedicated the best years of their professional careers to making the Queen Elizabeth-class a reality. I'd like to pay tribute to all in the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, and their leadership, for all they have done to enable this moment.

Today is the culmination of their achievement – not only in building this ship but proving to the world, and to ourselves, that the United Kingdom remains a great maritime industrial nation.

Of course, it will take time and patience to introduce a 65,000 tonne vessel into service, with all the intricacies of big deck aviation and strike group operations.

And in doing so, I'd also like to acknowledge all that the US Navy, the US Marine Corps and the French Navy have done, and continue to do, to help us on this journey - most recently seen during Exercise Saxon Warrior with the USS George HW Bush Strike Group here in UK waters, working alongside two Portsmouth based frigates and the UK Carrier Strike Group Battlestaff from Whale Island.

But the hardest part of the journey is now behind us, and the Royal Navy’s carrier-led revival is fast becoming a reality.

It’s not always been an easy path, but with a steady nerve and a deep resolve we saw it through. It’s a triumph of national strategic ambition and a lesson for the future.

Infrastructure & Community Support

While all eyes are on HMS Queen Elizabeth today, it’s absolutely right that we also recognise how much work has gone on here in Portsmouth to prepare for her arrival.

More than 3 million cubic metres of sediment has been dredged from the harbour channel, along with the odd bomb and stray torpedo, which have inevitably stolen the headlines and disrupted the odd bit of shopping in Gunwharf Quays.

But equally, a huge amount of time and effort has been dedicated to putting the necessary infrastructure in place, from navigation buoys and jetties to high voltage electricity supplies.

All this has been done with the consent of the Council and the local community, and I would like to thank the people of Portsmouth for their forbearance and, indeed, their enthusiasm.

Just as Portsmouth has supported the Royal Navy in our ambitions so the Royal Navy will support the City in return. The Royal Navy is hugely excited to sponsor Portsmouth's new University Technical College.

It’s part of our shared vision to strengthen Portsmouth’s position as a heritage destination, a commercial port, a centre for maritime industries and, most of all, the home of the Royal Navy.

Strategic Significance

And as home of the Royal Navy, let’s remember that this is first and foremost a working dockyard.

Most of the ships currently alongside have recently returned from operations or will shortly deploy.

HMS Duncan is leading NATO maritime forces in the Mediterranean and Black Sea – one of the most visible demonstrations of the United Kingdom’s continued commitment to European security.

As for HMS Diamond, next month she heads to the Middle East to maintain the Royal Navy’s 40 year presence in a part of the world which is fundamental to both our national security and economic prosperity.

I’m sure you’ll joining me in wishing her Ship’s Company – and their families – the very best as they prepare for that nine-month deployment.

But nothing better symbolises our nation’s continued global role than the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.

Maritime air power has played a major, often decisive contribution, in all the UK’s major overseas operations since the end of the Second World War.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the first carrier in the world designed for and dedicated to the operation of a fifth generation combat aircraft, the F35B Joint Strike Fighter.

I’ve been to the United States to meet some of the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force aviators who are working brilliantly together to bring this aircraft into UK Service – 10 by the end of this year, with 24 available for Carrier Strike by 2023.

Crucially, a second ship - HMS Prince of Wales - is also on its way, meaning one carrier can be available for operations at all times.

Meanwhile Astute-class submarines, Type 26 frigates and Tide-class tankers are under construction or entering service, to join the Type 45 destroyers that have already proven themselves so able at the sharp end of operations in the Middle East

We will bring them together to form a Carrier Strike Group - a powerful strategic conventional deterrent - ready to fight and in the most demanding circumstances, but also providing a reassuring and highly visible UK presence on the global stage.

Working with the Army and Royal Air Force, the Queen Elizabeth class will project power and influence not just at sea, but in the air, over the land and in cyberspace.

They will support all arms of Government to promote the UK’s authority in the world, to deliver aid and disaster relief and will serve as an awe inspiring venue for trade fairs and diplomatic engagements. 

And as we prepare to leave the European Union, I have no doubt that the Queen Elizabeth-class will help take our nation’s message of partnership and prosperity to the rising economies of the world, aided by the very best ambassadors we could wish for: the men and women of the armed forces.


So, in drawing to a close, it is fitting that we are joined today by our Prime Minister.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the Nation’s future flagship; the embodiment of Britain in steel and spirit.

And in the years and decades to come, she and her sister ship will demonstrate the kind of nation we are - not a diminished nation, withdrawing from the world, but a confident, outward-looking and ambitious nation, with a Royal Navy to match.

So this is truly a proud moment for Portsmouth, for the Royal Navy and for the United Kingdom.

Today, we’ve shown the world how to welcome a Queen.

And we are thrilled that you have all been able to join us.

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