MPs wonder whether 'Boaty McVolte-face' is on cards over poll-winning ship name

Updated: 

MPs are to quiz research bosses on the public competition to name a new polar vessel which saw Boaty McBoatface emerge as the runaway winner.

The name RRS Boaty McBoatface topped the poll staged by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to name its £200 million research vessel with more than 124,000 votes, more than three times its nearest rival.

But the final decision on the name lies with Science Minister Jo Johnson who has hinted he does not favour the moniker chosen in the internet poll - prompting questions over whether a "Boaty McVolte-face" is imminent. 

As part of its inquiry into science communication, the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee will quiz NERC bosses about the competition, their public engagement strategy and the science the polar research vessel will undertake.

Committee chairwoman Nicola Blackwood said: "Hundreds of thousands of people took part in NERC's competition to name a new polar research vessel.

"And they'll want to know whether there's going to be a 'Boaty McVolte-face' on the name.

"My committee wants to explore this as an example of science communication. Was it a triumph of public engagement or a PR disaster?

"We'll also want to know how NERC intends to build on the mass coverage they've attracted and engage people with the vital polar science that Boaty will be enabling."

RRS Boaty McBoatface was the clear winner of the "name our ship" competition, garnering 124,109 votes, ahead of RRS Poppy-Mai - named after a 16-month-old girl with terminal cancer - which came second with 34,371 votes.

They were followed by the more conventional RRS Henry Worsley, which commemorates the Antarctic explorer, with 15,231 votes; RRS It's Bloody Cold Here with 10,679 votes, and RRS David Attenborough with 10,284 votes.

As voting took place across the UK for city mayors, police and crime commissioners, English local councils, Stormont, the Welsh National Assembly and Scottish Parliament, Downing Street was drawn into the discussion over a quite different poll.

Asked whether David Cameron believed the public's choice of Boaty McBoatface should be respected, the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: "He recognises it has been good to raise the profile of the important work we are doing in research in monitoring the Arctic.

"I am sure the Government will have the opportunity to set out its view as we move forward on this."