World Cup: are you allowed to fly the England flag?

27th Jun 2018

There have been several media reports of companies, councils and employers forbidding people from flying the England flag in offices, vehicles, and in pubs. We’ve been asked to take a look at the law around flying flags in England.

It’s not illegal to fly the flag of St George. As long as the person flying the flag has permission from the owner of the site, the flag is safe and doesn’t cause danger by obscuring things like official road signs, the St George’s cross can be flown.

Flag fliers do need the permission of the site owner to display flags, so property owners are within their rights not to allow flags in buildings or on vehicles that they own.

Flying the England flag is legal, as long as certain conditions are met

The government made the law on flag flying more “liberalised” in 2012. Under this legislation, any flags flown in England are subject to several conditions.

They must be “maintained in a condition that does not impair the overall visual appearance of the site”, be kept in a safe condition, have the permission of the owner of the site on which they are displayed, not obscure road or rail signs, and be removed carefully if the planning authority requires it. All flags must meet those conditions.

There are three different categories of flags in the eyes of the law.

The first type are those that don’t need consent from the local authority to be flown. This includes “any country’s national flag”, which includes the flag of St George according to official guidance from the government. Other patron saint flags, flags for areas in the UK, as well as the Commonwealth, EU, and UN flags also fall into this category.

The second category of flag also doesn’t require permission to be flown, as long as its display abides by certain conditions on size and location if it’s being hoisted on a flagpole. The pride flag comes under this category, as do “house flags”, which display names or emblems of the people or company that occupies a building.

The third type of flag is any that is not included in the previous two categories, so requires “express consent” from the local planning authority to be flown.

Flags at work

The law says that flag fliers need the permission of the “owner of the site” to display flags there. As such private companies, such as pubs or other businesses are within their rights not to allow flags in buildings or on vehicles that they own.

The Wetherspoon pub chain—which was reported to have “banned their staff from displaying England flags”— told us that managers of their pubs were allowed to put up a flag of St George. If any other member of staff wanted to, they would need permission from the manager.

“If a customer comes into the pub with a flag, that is fine, but it is not ok for him/her to attach the flag to one of the pub windows etc,” Wetherspoon said.

The Royal Mail was reported to be restricting workers from flying any country’s flags from their vehicles. They told the i: "Flags should not be flown on vehicles as Royal Mail has a duty of care both to all employees and to members of the public."

And Barrow Borough Council reportedly told taxi drivers in the area not to display England flags on their cars, although there are reports this has been overturned.

We’ve asked Barrow council for more information on their flag policy.

The cross of St George on government buildings

The Sun’s front cover on 27 June called for the England flag to be flown “up and down Whitehall” while England participates in the World Cup, with support from Conservative MP Nick Boles.

The guidance on flying the St George’s flag from UK government buildings is slightly different.

On St George’s Day (23 April), the cross of St George may be flown on government buildings in England, but only if it has two or more flag poles. The cross of St George “may be flown in addition to the union flag but not in a superior position”.

A 2013 House of Commons briefing on UK flags said the union flag takes precedence “over all national flags and the cross of St George is not flown on any other days”.

During PMQs on 27 June 2018, Theresa May told Nick Boles “Number Ten will be flying the England flag on the day of each of England’s matches from now on, and we will be encouraging other government departments to do the same.”

England flags were reportedly flown at Downing Street for England’s World Cup matches in 2014 and 2010 during David Cameron’s tenure.

Correction 28 June 2018

We originally said the Post Office was reportedly restricting how its employees could display flags. This should have referred to the Royal Mail. We've corrected the piece.