A Guide To Britain’s Flag Protocol

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A Guide to Britain’s Flag Protocol

The Union Flag is one of the best-known national symbols in the world. Thisis not surprising as it has been around for over 400 years with only minorchanges. The Union Flag signifies the unity of the nations that make up theUnited Kingdom and dependencies, and demonstrates the bonds of citizenship which we all share. Whatever our differences may be, whatever ourfaith, culture, political views, ethnicity, first language or traditional customs,we can all stand beneath this flag united together in common purpose.But for too long our flag has been taken for granted and largely ignored.Few children are taught about it in school, few people know its history oreven the correct way to fly it. It is time that this changed and we becamefamiliar with our flag, because all of us have the right to fly the flag andmay use it on land wherever and whenever we wish. It is the people’s flagas well as the state flag.The Flag Institute, in association with the Flags & Heraldry Committee,an all party group of the United Kingdom Parliament, has produced thisbooklet to help and guide you when flying the flag in a variety of situations it provides a few simple rules to ensure that the flag is flown correctly andis treated with dignity and respect.We would like to pay tribute to Graham Bartram, Chief Vexillologist ofthe Flag Institute, for his outstanding graphics and detailed knowledgein the drafting of this booklet, and also to officials at the Department forCulture, Media and Sport (DCMS) who so kindly supported this venture.Above all we hope this booklet will encourage you to fly your flag withaffection and pride.Malcolm Farrow OBEPresident of the Flag InstituteBRITISH FLAG PROTOCOLIntroductionAndrew Rosindell MPChairman of the Flags & Heraldry CommitteeMarch 20101

BRITISH FLAG PROTOCOLIntroduction.1The Union Flag. 3The Flag Protocol of the United Kingdom. 3Flying the Flag. 3Position of Honour. 3In Front of and On a Building. 4Within a Circle of Flags. 4From a Flagpole with Yardarm and Gaff. 5In Processions. 5With Crossed Flags. 5Suspended Vertically Above a Street. 5Flat Against a Surface. 5On a Speaker’s Platform. 6Double-Flagging. 6As a Pall for a Coffin. 6On Vehicles.7On Uniforms.7At Civilian Transport Facilities.7Pennants.7The Royal Standard.7Flags at Half-mast. 8The Proper Disposal of Flags. 8Appendix A - British Flags. 9Appendix B - Precedence of Flags.13General Precedence.13Order for Commonwealth Events . .13Order for United Nations Events.14Order for European Union Events.14English Alphabetical Order.14Appendix C - United Kingdom Flag Specifications.16Flying Flags in the United Kingdom - A Guide to Britain’s Flag ProtocolFirst published in the United Kingdom in 2010 by the Flag Institute in association withthe Flags and Heraldry Committee of the UK Parliament and with support from theDepartment for Culture, Media and Sport.Copyright The Flag Institute 2010Graham Bartram has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act1988 and the Berne Convention on Copyright to be identified as the author of this work.All rights reserved. No part of this booklet may be reproduced, stored in a retrievalsystem or transmitted in any way or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.Whilst every care has been taken in the preparation of this booklet, neither the publishers nor the author assume any responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damagesresulting from the use of the information contained herein.ISBN 978-0-9513286-1-3Printed and bound in the United Kingdom by printing.com.Image CreditsIllustrations: Graham BartramFront Cover: Donald EdwardsInside Front Cover (left to right, top to bottom): Adrian Dennis - AFP; Malcolm Farrow;René Mansi†; Douglas Freer†; Dan Kite†; Arthur M; Matthew Dixon†; Marek Slusarczyk†;Donald EdwardsPage 1: Paul KempInside Back Cover (left to right, top to bottom): Graham Heywood†; Colin Dobson;Arthur M; Mark Bridge; Jim Oatway; Don Bayley†; Graham Bartram; ditto; ditto2†from iStockPhoto.com

The national flag of the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories is the Union Flag, which may also be called the Union Jack.1The first Union Flag was created in 1606 and combined the flags of Englandand Scotland. The present Union Flag dates from 1801 when St. Patrick’sCross was added to represent Ireland. It then became possible to display theflag upside down. There is no Flag Act in UK law and the Union Flag is thenational flag by long established custom and practice, rather than by statute.The First Union FlagThe Flag Protocol of the United KingdomThe national flags of the United Kingdom (ie. the Union Flag and the flagsof England, Scotland and Wales) should be displayed only in a dignifiedmanner befitting the national emblems. They should not be displayed in aposition inferior to any other flag or ensign.It is improper to use the national flags as a table or seat cover or as amasking for boxes, barriers, or the intervening space between a dais orplatform and the floor. The use of any of the national flags to cover a statue,monument or plaque for an unveiling ceremony is discouraged.BRITISH FLAG PROTOCOLThe Union FlagFlying the FlagFlags may be flown on every day of the year. Government and local authority buildings in England, Scotland and Wales are encouraged to fly nationalflags every day of the year (the flying of flags at certain locations in NorthernIreland is constrained by The Flags Regulations [Northern Ireland] 2000and Police Emblems and Flag Regulations [Northern Ireland] 2002).2Flags are normally flown from sunrise to sunset but they may also beflown at night, when they should be illuminated.No permission is needed to fly the national flags and they are excludedfrom most planning and advertising regulations (but flagpoles may not be).National flags should never be flown in a worn or damaged condition, orwhen soiled. To do so is to show disrespect for the nations they represent.Important: the Union Flag has a correct way up - in the half of the flagnearest the flagpole, the wider diagonal white stripe must be above thered diagonal stripe, as Scotland’s St Andrew’s Cross takes precedence overIreland’s St. Patrick’s Cross. It is most improper to fly the flag upside down.If a purely decorative effect is desired it is better to confine the display toflags of lesser status; for example, house flags, pennants or coloured bunting.The Modern Union FlagThis flag is upside down!Position of HonourThe order of precedence of flags in the UK is: Royal Standards, the Union Flag,the flag of the host country (England, Scotland, Wales, etc.), flags of othernations (in alphabetical order, see the list on page 15), the CommonwealthFlag, the European Union Flag, county flags, flags of cities or towns, bannersof arms, and house flags. See Appendix B (page 13) for a detailed precedencelist and special precedence orders for international organizations.When British national flags are flown with the flags of other nationseach flag should be the same size (or have the same width - the measure1 See Hansard - House of Lords Debate 14 July 1908 vol 192 cc 579 - 80.2 See www.opsi.gov.uk/Sr/sr2000/nisr 20000347 en.pdf & www.opsi.gov.uk/Sr/sr2002/20020023.htm3

BRITISH FLAG PROTOCOL1. Fold in half2. Fold in half again3. Fold the last 1/3 inwards4. Roll towards the heading5. Tie with light cotton6. The flag is now ready forbreakingFolding a Flag for Breakingment from top to bottom) and should fly from a separate flagpole of thesame height.3 The UK’s flag shape of 3:5 works well with nearly all othernations’ flags and it is recommended to use these proportions if a standardsize is required for all the flags in a display.4The senior British national flag (eg. the Union Flag or the flag of England, Scotland or Wales) should be raised first and lowered last, unless allthe flags can be raised and lowered simultaneously. Flags should be raisedand lowered in a dignified manner. An alternative British tradition for flagraising is to hoist the flag while rolled up and secured with a thin piece ofcotton or a slip knot. A sharp tug of the halyard will break the cotton andrelease the flag to fly free. This is known as ‘breaking’ the flag, and is sometimes used to signal the beginning of an event, or the arrival of a VIP.National flags should be displayed as follows:In Front of and On a BuildingWhere there are two or more flagpoles parallel to the building line, thesenior national flag should be the first flag on the left of an observer facingthe main entrance of the building. The remaining flags then appear in orderof precedence from left to right.Where there are two or more flagpoles on the forecourt of a buildingangled to the main entrance, the senior national flag should be flown onthe outermost pole when the flagpoles are to the left of the main entranceand on the innermost pole when the flagpoles are to the right of the mainentrance, as shown in the diagram.If only one flag is to be flown and there are two flagpoles, it should beflown on the flagpole to the observer’s left. If there are more than two flagpoles, it should be flown as near as possible to the centre. This only applieswhen the other flagpoles remain empty. It is permissible to fly the samenational flag on more than one flagpole by repeating the order of precedence.If one flagpole is higher than the rest, then the senior national flag canfly from that flagpole; however no non-UK national flags can be flown onthe other flagpoles. These can be used for more junior flags such as countyand house flags. Alternatively the higher flagpole can be left empty and theremaining flagpoles used. In general when siting flagpoles it is preferable tokeep them at the same level to avoid protocol restrictions.The appropriate size of flag for any flagpole is a matter of aesthetics but, asa guide, a ground-level flagpole should have a flag whose length (its longerdimension) is no more than 1/3 of the pole’s height. A flagpole on top of abuilding may need a larger flag because of the added height of the building.Within a Circle of FlagsIn a semi-circle of flags representing a number of nations, the seniornational flag should be in the centre. The remaining flags should be placedwith the next most senior flag (or first in alphabetical order if all the flagsare of equal seniority) on the left of the central flag, the next on the rightof the central flag, the next on the 2nd left from the central flag, and continuing to alternate left and right.43 International protocol prohibits the flying of any nation’s flag higher than another(apart from at medal ceremonies during sporting events).4 If each country’s official dimensions are being used, any of the flags that are square ornearly square can have a slightly larger width (up to 25% more) to give a more equal area.

From a Flagpole with Yardarm and GaffWhen displayed on a flagpole fitted with yardarms (horizontal crosspieces), the senior national flag or ensign5 should be flown from the starboard yardarm (the right as viewed from the rear, the left as viewed fromthe front).If the flagpole is fitted with a gaff (a short pole attached to the flagpoleat an angle - see diagram), the senior ensign should be flown from the gaff.If there is no ensign to be flown, the gaff should be left empty and thesenior national flag flown from the starboard yardarm, as described above.A yacht club burgee or distinguishing flag can be flown from the masthead, the highest point of the flagpole.BRITISH FLAG PROTOCOLIn an enclosed circle of flags representing a number of nations, thesenior national flag should be flown on the flagpole immediately oppositethe main entrance to the venue, or above the Royal Box if there is no mainentrance. The remaining flags should be arranged as for the semi-circleof flags described above. Alternatively they can be arranged alphabetically,going clockwise.In ProcessionsThe senior national flag should always lead in a single file of flags.When two or more flags are carried side-by-side, the senior national flagtakes the position of honour at the right-hand side of the line facing thedirection of movement (the left of an observer watching the line approach).When passing the person taking the salute the flag should be loweredso that the staff is horizontal. This can be done by simply lowering the staffstraight ahead, or by lowering the staff towards the person taking the saluteand then swinging it round to straight ahead. All the movements should beslow and dignified. After the salute, the flag should be raised again.With Crossed FlagsWhenever crossed with the flag of another nation or organization, thesenior national flag should be on the left of the observer facing the flag. Itsstaff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.Suspended Vertically Above a StreetCare should be taken to ensure that all flags suspended vertically across astreet are hung to be seen from the same direction.Flat Against a SurfaceUnion Flag - If hung horizontally or vertically, the broad white diagonalshould be uppermost in the top-left corner.Other flags - If hung vertically, the edge that would normally be the topof the flag should be on the left, so, for example, ensigns have their UnionFlag canton in the upper left corner. On ensigns that have an armorialbadge, if possible the badge should be upright, and the correct way round.5 Ensigns are the national flags that identify a vessel’s nationality and in the UK havethe Union Flag in the top corner.5

On a Speaker’s PlatformBRITISH FLAG PROTOCOLWhen displayed from a staff, on a speaker’s platform, the senior nationalflag should be placed on the right-hand side of the speaker, and thereforeto the audience’s left.For interior or parade use a ‘dress flag’ may be used. This is sometimesmade of silk or satin with a fringe around three sides. The fringe can begold or red/white/blue for the Union Flag, red/white for St. George’s Cross,blue/white for St. Andrew’s Cross and green/white for the Red Dragon.The fringe is purely decorative.Double-FlaggingSometimes it may be desired to display two flags when only one flagpole isavailable. As long as both flags are British this is possible. The senior flagshould fly at the top, with a gap of about 30cm (12”), assuming there isenough vertical space on the pole. For example, the Union Flag can be flownover the flag of England, Scotland or Wales (as shown), or over a county, cityor house flag. When flags are at half-mast the lower flag must be removed.As a Pall for a CoffinFootHeadA Coffin with a Fitted CoverIf a national flag is to be used on a coffin, it should be placed so that the topleft corner of the flag is over the deceased’s left shoulder. The flag should beremoved before interment or cremation and folded.If the flag is to be retained by the next of kin it can be folded using theRoyal Navy’s method shown here, based on a 1:2 flag (138cm x 276cm) withno fittings (ie. ropes, toggles or clips), or using the method shown on page 4:(if a flag is used, 1:2 proportionsfit the shape of the coffin better)The Union Flag is pulled taut. The Union Flagis folded in half, lengthways (Fig. 1).Keeping the Union Flag taught it is then foldedin half (lengthways) a second time (Fig. 2).A straight fold of 1/14 of the flag’s length (20cmon a casket cover) is taken from the foot ofthe Union Flag (Fig. 3). This fold may notbe necessary, or may need to be a differentlength, depending upon the shape, size andmaterial of the flag being folded - practise first!The first triangular fold is made ensuring it iswithin 5mm of the straight edge (Fig. 4).The triangular folding procedure continuesuntil it reaches the head of the Union Flag(Figs. 5, 6 & 7).Any remainder is tucked away into the fold ofthe triangular shape (Fig. 8 & 9).6The Union Flag ready for presentation (Fig. 10).

On VehiclesBRITISH FLAG PROTOCOLA car flag should be placed on a staff fitted to the front-right wing, in thecentre of front edge of the bonnet, or in the centre of the front edge of theroof. If two flags are to be flown, the senior flag should be on the frontright wing and the junior flag on the front-left wing.When flags are painted onto a vehicle, or on the tail fin of an aircraft, theflag on the port side should show the obverse of the flag (ie. the flagpoleon the left), while that on the starboard side should show the reverse (ie.the flagpole on the right). On surfaces perpendicular to the direction oftravel (eg. the back of the vehicle) the obverse of the flag should be shown.On UniformsWhen flag shoulder patches are worn on uniforms the flag on the left shoulder or sleeve should show the obverse of the flag (ie. the flagpole at thewearer’s front). If there is a patch on the right shoulder or sleeve it shouldshow the reverse of the flag (ie. still with the flagpole at the wearer’s front).If more than one flag is to be worn, the Union Flag should be at the top.At Civilian Transport FacilitiesCivilian marine facilities should fly the Civil Ensign (the undefaced RedEnsign) as their national flag, unless they belong to an organization thatholds a warrant for a special ensign, when that ensign should be used instead.Civilian air facilities, such as airports and airfields, should fly the Civil AirEnsign as their national flag, rather than the Union Flag. They may additionally fly the flag of England, Scotland or Wales and the appropriate county flag.The Civil Air EnsignPennantsIt is sometimes impractical to fly a full-size flag throughout the year - flagscan wear out quickly, especially if they are flown in adverse conditions. Bareflagpoles are a sad sight. The pennant, or vimpel, is a solution to these problems. The long narrow streamer-like flags are designed to be left flying dayand night. The optional single point attachment and the narrow tail reducewear and their length means that they can be easily repaired.UnionEnglandWalesScotlandThe Royal StandardThe Royal Standard (actually the Royal Banner - a standard being an heraldic flag similar to the pennants above) should only be flown whilst the Royalperson is on the premises, being hoisted (or broken) on their arrival andlowered following their departure. If the Royal person is to be present in abuilding, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office or the Royal person’s Private Secretaryshould be consulted. They will advise on the flag to be flown. The Royal Standard is never hoisted when the Royal person is passing in procession.The Royal Standard takes precedence over all other flags in the UnitedKingdom, including the Union Flag.The Royal Standard(in Scotland the

The senior British national flag (eg. the Union Flag or the flag of Eng-land, Scotland or Wales) should be raised first and lowered last, unless all the flags can be raised and lowered simultaneously. Flags should be raised and lowered in a dignified manner. An alternative British tradition for flag

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