Councils will not be flying the Union Jack for Prince Andrew’s 60th birthday following a change in advice from the Government.
Local authorities had previously been told they would have to fly the flag on town halls on Wednesday, February 19, to mark the occasion. It prompted a backlash from certain councils, politicians and campaigners.
They said councils should not be forced to honour the Duke of York, following allegations that he had slept with Virginia Giuffre when she was 17 after she was trafficked by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Prince Andrew has also faced fresh criticism after reportedly visiting the luxury Bahamas estate of tycoon Peter Nygard, who has been accused of running a sex trafficking scheme between 2008 and 2015. The Duke has denied any wrongdoing.
Following the uproar over the Epstein case, the Government changed its advice. It said ‘there is no requirement to fly flags on February 19 following the decision by the Duke of York to step back from public duties for the foreseeable future’.
Now councils in the area have confirmed they have no plans to change their flag-flying procedures on Wednesday.
In the case of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, this will mean Union Jack will be flying as normal from Stoke Town Hall – as it does every day. A spokesman said it would be ‘normal flag-flying procedures’ on Wednesday.
Similarly, Staffordshire County Council flies the union flag from the flagpole atop the Shire Hall in Market Square, Stafford, on a daily basis.
A spokesman said the authority was not planning ‘anything specific’ for Prince Andrew’s birthday.
Cheshire East Council, which does not routinely fly the Union flag at its Sandbach headquarters, said: “As Prince Andrew has stepped back from official duties, we will not be flying the union flag on this occasion.”
Prince Andrew made the decision following his much-criticised appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme in November, when he spoke about his relationship with Epstein for the first time in public.
The initial email reminding councils to fly the flag for the Duke of York’s birthday was met with widespread criticism.
Graham Smith, CEO of anti-monarchy organisation Republic, described it as ‘crass and offensive’, saying that councils had better things to do than worry about ‘daft royal protocols’. Joe Anderson, mayor of Liverpool, said it would not be ‘appropriate’ to fly the flag, following the allegations against the prince.
Ms Giuffre herself sarcastically tweeted: “Oh mummy they didn’t even raise the flag on my birthday – if only life was so hard.”
There are 20 days listed for flying the union flag on UK Government buildings in 2020. These include the birthdays of the Queen and Prince Philip, their four children, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Other flag days include the four national patron saints days, Commonwealth Day and Coronation Day.
While the flag advice issued to councils for Wednesday has now changed, the bells of Westminster Abbey will still be ringing out to celebrate Prince Andrew’s birthday.
A spokeswoman for the central London church said: “Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar and the bells are rung for the birthdays of HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh; their children; and HRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children.
“There are no plans to change these arrangements.”