Union flag may not fly from government buildings to mark Prince Andrew's 60th

18 February 2020, 19:52 | Updated: 18 February 2020, 21:05

The duke gave up royal duties for the foreseeable future last November
The duke gave up royal duties for the foreseeable future last November. Picture: Getty

By Matt Drake

The Union flag may not fly from government buildings to mark Prince Andrew's 60th birthday after he stepped down from royal duties, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said.

The Duke of York celebrates his birthday on Wednesday, but ahead of the milestone, the Union flag tribute will not be required to be flown.

Graham Smith, who is Chief executive of Republic, branded the tribute as "crass and offensive".

The duke gave up royal duties for the foreseeable future last November following a disastrous Newsnight appearance about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

He faced a backlash after the interview with critics accusing him of failing to show regret over his friendship with the disgraced financier, or empathy with his victims.

Downing Street said earlier this month the issue of flying the national flag in tribute was being looked at.

A DCMS spokesman said: "Following the decision by the Duke of York to step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, there is no longer a requirement for UK government buildings to fly the Union flag on Wednesday February 19."

The bells of Westminster Abbey will still ring out in celebration as it is a Royal Peculiar - a place of worship that falls under the jurisdiction of the monarch rather than a bishop.

The abbey also marks the birthdays of the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, their children, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children.

The duke faced a backlash after the Newsnight interview
The duke faced a backlash after the Newsnight interview. Picture: Getty

The DCMS announcement is unlikely to have a significant effect as many government buildings - like UK embassies or government department offices - already fly the Union flag every day of the year and are expected to continue to do so.

Local authorities have the discretion whether to fly the Union flag on any given day.

Andrew, who strenuously denies the allegations, has faced calls to talk to the FBI and US prosecutors still investigating Epstein, who committed suicide in jail while facing sex trafficking charges.

The duke was due to be promoted to Admiral on his 60th birthday, in line with a longstanding policy that sees senior royals treated as serving military members.

But Buckingham Palace has already said the duke has asked to defer the promotion until he is able to fully resume royal duties.

According to reports, Andrew is expected to celebrate his birthday with his former wife Sarah, Duchess of York, their daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and friends at his Royal Lodge home in Windsor Great Park.

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