"By the King: Whereas, some differences hath arisen between Our subjects of South and North Britaine travelling by Seas, about the bearing of their Flagges: For the avoiding of all contentions hereafter. We have, with the advice of our Council, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George’s Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew’s Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed"
The Union Flag can be flown by any individual or organisation in Great Britain on any day of their choice. Legal regulations restrict the use of the Union Flag on Government buildings in Northern Ireland. Long-standing restrictions on Government use of the flag elsewhere were abolished in July 2007.
While the flag appears symmetric, the white lines above and below the diagonal red are different widths. On the side closest to the flagpole (or on the left when depicted on paper), the white lines above the diagonals are wider; on the side furthest from the flagpole (or on the right when depicted on paper), the converse is true. Thus, no change will be apparent when rotating the flag 180 degrees, but if mirrored the flag will be upside-down.
Placing the flag upside down is considered lèse majesté and is offensive to some, However, it can be flown upside down as a distress signal. While this is rare, it was used by groups under siege during the Boer War and during campaigns in India in the late 18th century.
St Patrick's saltire
The only reason that the UK flag is not symmetrical is because of the relative positions of the saltires of St Patrick and St. Andrew. The red saltire of St. Patrick is offset such that it doesn't relegate the white saltire of St. Andrew to a mere border for it. St. Andrew's saltire has the higher position at the hoist side, with St. Patrick's saltire in the higher position on the opposite side.
The Union Flag is flown from Government buildings at half-mast in the following situations:
from the announcement of the death of the Sovereign (an exception is made for Proclamation Day – the day the new Sovereign is proclaimed, when the Flag is flown at full staff from 11 am to sunset)
The Sovereign sometimes declares other days when the Union Flag is to fly at half-mast. Half-mast means the flag is flown two-thirds of the way up the flagpole with at least the height of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the flagpole.
Until July 2007, the Union Flag was only flown on Government buildings on a limited number of special days each year. The choice of days was managed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Government buildings are those used by civil servants, the Crown, or the armed forces. They were not applicable to private citizens, corporations, or local authorities.
On 3 July 2007, the Justice SecretaryJack Straw laid a green paper before Parliament entitled The Governance of Britain. Alongside a range of proposed changes to the constitutional arrangements of the UK was a specific announcement that there would be consultation on whether the rules on flag-flying on Government buildings should be relaxed.
Two days later, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that with immediate effect the Union Flag would fly from the flag pole above the front entrance of 10 Downing Street on every day of the year. The intention was to increase feelings of 'Britishness'. Other Government departments were asked to follow this lead, and all Government buildings in Whitehall did so.
Scotland Yard however stated that they would follow the previous rules until they are formally abolished by DCMS.
James Purnell, Culture Secretary from June 2007 to January 2008 in Brown's administration, subsequently concurred with the abolition of the restrictions – pending consultation on longer term arrangements.
Some non central government bodies still continue to follow the flag days.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government has decreed that the Flag of Scotland ("the Saltire") will fly on all its buildings every day from 8 am until sunset, but there is no specific policy on flying the Union Flag and as such it is sometimes flown alongside the Saltire and sometimes omitted. An exception is made for "national days". On these days, the Saltire shall be lowered and replaced with the Union Flag. These are the same as the flag days noted above with the exception of:
Another difference is that on Saint Andrew's Day, the Union Flag can only be flown if the building has more than one flagpole – the Saltire will not be lowered to make way for the Union Flag if there is only one flagpole.
Flag Days in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the Union Flag is flown from buildings of the Northern Ireland Office as decreed by Regulations published in 2000. The Regulations were amended in 2002 to remove the requirement to fly the flag on the birthdays of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon who both died that year. The current flag days are now the same as the United Kingdom government days noted above with the exception of the Duchess of Cornwall's birthday, which was only added to the UK flag days after her wedding to the Prince of Wales in 2005, and has not yet been extended to Northern Ireland.
In November 2007 the then culture minister Margaret Hodge said she would consider a redesign of the Union Flag to incorporate the Welsh dragon, during a debate in the House of Commons on the frequency with which the flag flies above public buildings. The issue was initially raised by Ian Lucas, another Labour MP, who complained that the flag introduced in 1606 following the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne as James I combined the cross of St George and the saltire of St Andrew. This principle continued in 1801 when the St Patrick cross was incorporated following the Union with Ireland Act 1800. Lucas claimed the identity of Wales had been suppressed ever since the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. In the debate, Albert Owen MP said that "we in Wales do not feel part of the union flag because the dragon or the cross of St David is not on it."Conservative MP Stewart Jackson described the comments as "eccentric".
↑Matthew Tempest and agencies Paisley to stand down as MEP, The Guardian, 19 January 2004. "After receiving almost 30% of the overall Northern Ireland vote in the 1979 European election, Ian Paisley became the first MEP to speak in the parliament when he protested that the Union Flag was flying upside down."