Government u-turn on order to fly Union flag for Prince Andrew's birthday
6 February 2020, 19:21 | Updated: 7 February 2020, 00:20
The Government has announced councils will not be required to fly flags for the Duke of York's 60th birthday.
An announcement was issued earlier today ordering councils to fly the flag on 19 February, in line with a custom which dictates all of the Monarch's children and those in the line of succession should have the honour.
An email, seen by The Sun, was sent to councils by Matt Stevenson, private secretary to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government permanent secretary Dame Melanie Dawes, reminding them to fly the flag for Andrew's 60th.
But following Prince Andrew's decision to step down from royal duties over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, critics branded the order "crass and offensive."
A Government spokesman said: "The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be advising councils that 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."
Before the dramatic backtrack on the order, some councils made it clear they would be defying the order.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said Liverpool City Council would not obey any such requests from the Government because it would not be "appropriate".
Mr Anderson told the Liverpool Echo: "No, we won't be doing that, I don't think that would be appropriate.
"This isn't to do with being anti-royal, we have flown the flag for the Queen before.
"But Prince Andrew isn't a major royal, he's not a significant member of the royal family."
Mr Anderson added: "When you look at his behaviour, it wouldn't be appropriate for us to mark his birthday."
However, the bells of Westminster Abbey will still ring out in celebration for Andrew's birthday, it has been announced.
A spokeswoman for the central London church told the PA news agency: "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 TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children.
"There are no plans to change these arrangements."
The Abbey, where the Queen was married and crowned, is also where Andrew wed Sarah Ferguson, now Sarah, Duchess of York, in 1986.
Andrew stepped down from public life in November after the fallout from his disastrous Newsnight appearance.
He was accused of showing a lack of empathy for Epstein's victims and of failing to show regret over his friendship with the disgraced financier.
Virginia Giuffre, previously known as Virginia Roberts, says she and the duke slept together on three separate occasions, including when she was 17, still a minor under US law.
Andrew, who strenuously denies the allegations, is facing calls to talk to the FBI and US prosecutors.
The re-examination of the flag-flying policy will not affect the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are also quitting royal duties amid the Megxit crisis.
Harry and Meghan's birthdays are not marked with flags on UK Government buildings, because the duke is not the child of a monarch, and the pair are not a future king and queen.
Republic, a campaign to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state, said councils had better things to worry about than "daft royal protocols".
Republic chief executive Graham Smith said: "This is crass and offensive, and even at the best of times it's nonsense to be flying flags for Andrew's or anyone else's birthday.
"Councils are struggling to provide core services, they have better things to worry about than daft royal protocols
"And to think we should be celebrating a man who has serious accusations of sexual assault hanging over his head is particularly appalling.
"It's time we ended the whole nonsense of flying flags for royal birthdays.
"It's inappropriate in a democracy and the public aren't interested.
"I think we'd all rather see councils spend their time and money getting services delivered."
The Local Government Association said councils will decide locally when to fly flags.
A spokesman for the LGA said: "Councils have their own flag-raising guidelines or protocols and will decide locally how to respond to any requests to fly particular flags on specific occasions."