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Flag of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland uses as its national flag the royal banner known as the Union Flag or, popularly, Union Jack. The current design of the Union Flag dates from the union of Ireland and Great Britain in 1801. It consists of the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England), edged in white, superimposed on the Cross of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), which are superimposed on the Saltire of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland). Wales, however, is not represented in the Union Flag by Wales' patron saint, Saint David.

Its correct proportions are 1:2. However, the version officially used by the British Army modifies the proportions to 3:5, and additionally two of the red diagonals are cropped.

History
Proclamation of James I of England, King of Scots: Orders in Council; Official creation of the Union Flag - 1606.

QUOTE - "By the King: Whereas, some differences hath arisen between Our subjects of South and North Britaine travelling by Seas, about the bearing of their Flagges: For the avoiding of all contentions hereafter. We have, with the advice of our Council, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George’s Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew’s Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed. – 1606."

Flying the flag
The Union Flag can be flown by any individual or organisation in England, Scotland or Wales 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.

Upside-down
While the flag appears symmetric, the white lines above and below the diagonal red are different widths. On the side closest to the flagpole (or on the left when depicted on paper), the white lines above the diagonals are wider; on the side furthest from the flagpole (or on the right when depicted on paper), the converse is true. Thus, rotating the flag 180 degrees will have no change, but if mirrored the flag will be upside-down.

Placing the flag upside down is considered lèse majesté and is offensive to some, However, it can be flown upside down as a distress signal. While this is rare, it was used by groups under siege during the Boer War and during campaigns in India in the late 18th century.

St Patrick's cross
The only reason to why the UK flag is not symmetrical is because of the St Patrick's cross. St Andrew's cross is above of St Patrick's at the hoist since the cross was added to the flag before the St Patrick's cross. From this reason, St Andrew's cross is permitted to have the higher position.

Flag Days (United Kingdom Government)
Until July 2007, the Union Flag was only flown on Government buildings on a limited number of special days each year. The choice of days was managed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Government buildings are those used by civil servants, the Crown, or the armed forces. They were not applicable to private citizens, corporations, or local authorities.

On 3 July 2007, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw laid a green paper before Parliament entitled The Governance of Britain. Alongside a range of proposed changes to the constitutional arrangements of the UK was a specific announcement that there would be consultation on whether the rules on flag-flying on Government buildings should be relaxed.

Two days later, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that with immediate effect the Union Flag would fly from the flag pole above the front entrance of 10 Downing Street on every day of the year. The intention was to increase feelings of 'Britishness'. Other Government departments were asked to follow this lead, and all Government buildings in Whitehall did so.

Scotland Yard however stated that they would follow the previous rules until they are formally abolished by DCMS.

James Purnell, Culture Secretary from June 2007 to January 2008 in Brown's administration, subsequently concurred with the abolition of the restrictions – pending consultation on longer term arrangements.

Flag days
Until July 2007, the Union Flag was only flown on days marking the birthdays of members of the Royal Family, the wedding anniversary of the Monarch, Commonwealth Day, Accession Day, Coronation Day, The Queen's official birthday, Remembrance Sunday and on the days of the State Opening and prorogation of Parliament. The flag days when the Union Flag should be flown from government buildings all over the UK were:

* 20 January: birthday of Sophie, The Countess of Wessex
* 6 February: anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II
* 19 February: birthday of Prince Andrew, Duke of York
* Second Sunday in March: Commonwealth Day
* 10 March: birthday of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
* 21 April: birthday of Queen Elizabeth II
* 9 May: Europe Day
* 2 June: anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
* 10 June: birthday of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
* A Saturday in June: Official Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II
* 17 July: birthday of Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall
* 15 August: birthday of Anne, Princess Royal
* Second Sunday in November: Remembrance Sunday
* 14 November: birthday of Charles, Prince of Wales
* 20 November: anniversary of the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

In addition, the flag should be flown in the following areas on the specified days:

* Wales – 1 March: Saint David's Day
* Northern Ireland – 17 March: Saint Patrick's Day
* England – 23 April: Saint George's Day
* Scotland – 30 November: Saint Andrew's Day
* Greater London: The day of the opening or proroguing of Parliament

On the national days of Wales, the Welsh flag may also be flown if there is a second flagpole available, however the Union Flag should not be lowered if only one is present.

Some non central government bodies still continue to follow the flag days.

Flag Days (Scottish Government)
In Scotland, the Scottish Government has decreed that the Flag of Scotland ("the Saltire") will fly on all its buildings everyday from 8am until sunset, but there is no specific policy on flying the Union Flag and as such it is sometimes flown alongside the Saltire and sometimes omitted. An exception is made for "national days". On these days, the Saltire shall be lowered and replaced with the Union Flag. These are the same as the flag days noted above with the exception of:

* 3 September: Merchant Navy Day Another difference is that on Saint Andrew's Day, the Union Flag can only be flown if the building has more than one flagpole – the Saltire will not be lowered to make way for the Union Flag if there is only one flagpole.

Flag Days (Northern Ireland)
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 Ireland.

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.

Half-mast
The Union Flag is flown from Government buildings at half-mast in the following situations:

* from the announcement of the death of the Sovereign (an exception is made for Proclamation Day – the day the new Sovereign is proclaimed, when the Flag is flown at full staff from 11 am to sunset)
* the day of the funeral of a member of the British Royal Family
* the funeral of a foreign ruler
* the funeral of a current or former Prime Minister

The Sovereign sometimes declares other days when the Union Flag is to fly at half-mast. Half-mast means the flag is flown two-thirds of the way up the flagpole with at least the height of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the flagpole.

Other bodies
Individuals, companies, local authorities, hospitals, and schools are free to fly the flag whenever they choose. Planning permission is not required to fly the Union Flag from a flagpole.

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