The Flag of Great Britain was the royal banner known at different names as the King's Colours, the Great Union Flag, and the Union Flag. The design dated from the early 17th century, when it was ordered by King James VI and I to be used on ships on the high seas, and it subsequently came into use as a national flag following the Treaty of Union and Acts of Union 1707, gaining a regularized status as "the Ensign armorial of the Kingdom of Great Britain", the newly created state. It was then adopted by land forces as well, although the blue field used on land-based versions more closely resembled that of the blue of the flag of Scotland.
The flag consists of the red cross of Saint George, patron saint of England, superimposed on the Saltire of Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Its correct proportions are 1:2.
The flag's official use came to an end in 1801 with the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. At that time Saint Patrick's Flag was added to the flag of Great Britain to create the present-day Union Flag.
The flag of the new Kingdom was formally chosen on 17 April 1707, two weeks before the Acts of Union of 1707 were to take effect. Sir Henry St George, Garter King of Arms, had presented several possible designs to Queen Anne and the Privy Council.
The principal alternative for consideration was a version of the flag
with the Cross of Saint Andrew lying on top of that of Saint George,
called the "Scotts union flag as said to be used by the Scotts", but
this was rejected.
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.
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
The Police Service of Northern Ireland
is the only body in the United Kingdom that is not permitted to fly the
Union Flag, and is only permitted to fly its service flag or the Royal Standard in the event of a visit by the Sovereign.
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".
As of 2013, numerous proposals have been made about how the Union Flag
might be altered to create a flag for the union of England, Wales and
Northern Ireland after possible Scottish independence. The College of Arms
has stated that there is no need to change the flag in those
circumstances, and the existing flag could continue to be used if
desired. Regarding the removal of Scottish heraldic features from the Union Flag, the Court of the Lord Lyon stated in 2012 that "[that] would be speculation at this stage, and we could only cross that bridge if we came to it."
The 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. 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.
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