Security Minister Tom Tugendhat admitted it was unacceptable that both of Britain's multibillion-pound aircraft carriers failed to leave port this month for vital military exercises.
HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth were due to take part in NATO's biggest exercise since the Cold War, called Operation Steadfast Defender, which was organized in the wake of Russia's increased threat to European security.
HMS Prince of Wales was due to leave for Norway on Sunday for exercises later this month, but the departure was canceled at the last minute.
It had been brought in to replace HMS Queen Elizabeth, which failed to depart Portsmouth harbor a week earlier due to a “problem” found in final checks with the starboard propeller linkage. It will now head to Rosyth in Scotland to receive repairs to address “wear and tear”, according to the Royal Navy.
Asked what had happened to HMS Prince of Wales, Mr Tugendhat told LBC: “I'm afraid it's not something I can explain, that's a matter for the Ministry of Defense and I'll have to ask some questions. about that.
“But I'm sure the First Sea Lord is looking into it right now. Admiral Key has commanded an aircraft carrier before and will no doubt take care of all the details and see to it that she sails as soon as possible.
“It is not acceptable to have such expensive and important pieces of kit in the dock when they should be defending our interests abroad.”
The Foreign Office did not provide a reason why HMS Prince of Wales failed to depart on Sunday, but a spokesman said it would get underway soon “under suitable tide and weather conditions”.
Mr Tugendhat was then forced to dismiss mocking comments on Monday morning that the state-of-the-art aircraft carrier could only sail on a sunny day when the tide is going in the right direction.
“This is absolutely not right,” the security minister said. “Our warships are capable of operating in… almost all weather conditions.
“The reality is that we have a perfectly capable Navy with some outstanding sailors who are able to equip and deploy our ships around the world.”
But two cancellations in one week due to “wear and tear” were a source of embarrassment for the Royal Navy.
People lined Portsmouth harbor walls to watch the departure of the 65,000-tonne HMS Prince of Wales on Sunday.
But after Ministry of Defense police boats had secured the area and the harbor mouth was closed to traffic – the normal protocol for the departure of an aircraft carrier – the channel was reopened and HMS Prince of Wales was unable to leave the pier.
It is unclear whether the sailing was canceled before the carrier departed or whether it had made its first moves from the pier at Portsmouth Naval Base.
A member of the public who had come to leave the carrier said: “I hope it hasn't broken down again.”
After about 20 minutes, the hundreds of people who had gathered to see the ship began to disperse as word spread that it was not leaving. In August 2022, HMS Prince of Wales collapsed shortly after leaving Portsmouth after a propeller shaft problem.