We’ve had to become experts in flag law, because until 2012 it was a criminal offence to fly the Wyvern without first obtaining planning permission. Marking a historic change of policy, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles proclaimed on St Ealdhelm’s Day in 2013 that ‘The Only Way is Wessex’. Without their LibDem partners to keep them liberal and democratic, the Tories have now again embraced their more repressive instincts. In announcing new rules on flying the Union Jack on government buildings, they slipped in a plan to make it illegal to fly the EU flag without permission.
The EU flag is also the flag of the Council of Europe, which the UK hasn’t left. It would be a diplomatic snub to the other 46 members to outlaw that organisation’s flag. No permission is needed to fly any foreign country’s flag in the UK. Nor is it the case that all international organisations have been targeted: it’s fine to fly the flag of the Commonwealth, the United Nations, or any other international organisation with the UK still onboard. The EU flag can only be banned by banning the Council of Europe flag. Perhaps this signals an intention to leave the Council of Europe, joining a select list of non-members that includes Belarus and Kazakhstan? The only other explanation is Government communications incompetence – reading the wrong regulations – and that can’t possibly be the case, can it?
If planning permission is sought, it can be refused only on very limited grounds. These are broadly to do with the siting of the flag and its pole, not the content of the flag. It’s extremely unlikely any refusal could be sustained on appeal or in law. The point is to bully people into applying, or not flying at all. There’s a processing fee of £385 a time. Remainers therefore pay a tax; Leavers can fly the Butcher’s Apron for free.
No doubt every village will have its ARP Warden Hodges reporting the neighbours for the treason of having an opinion. It will be interesting to see if any case makes it to court, only to be struck down as a restriction on free expression contrary to the (British-drafted) European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK remains party.
The Tories’ logic seems to be that the EU flag is now political, but that itself is a political view. The flag expresses a civic identity as a European, just as other flags express other civic identities, such as those of the home nations, or foreign countries, or the counties, or Wessex. The 2021 Census results will reveal that thousands – maybe millions – of British ‘subjects’ self-identify as European. Fewer and fewer identify as British, and with good reason. A ban can only be enforced within England and Cornwall: planning law elsewhere is devolved and Johnson’s increasingly fascist obsessions will be ignored in the calmer peripheries