Drivers finally given right to fly national flags on number plates... but they'll be illegal in Europe

Drivers have finally been given the legal go-ahead to display the Union Flag on number plates.

It has taken the Department of Transport eight years to turn a ministerial pledge into legislative action.

The number plates will, however, not be legal on the continent. British drivers will still have to display an oval GB sticker or carry the EU flag on their plates.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon was shamed yesterday honouring a pledge made by his Government as far back as 2001 following protests from critics who said the EU-flag on number plates was another example of 'creeping Euro-federalism'.

'Patriotic motorists are now able to display national flags on their number plates after Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon secured a change in the law,' crowed the Department for Transport today.

'It is right that motorists are now able to celebrate this pride by displaying flags on their number plates and I look forward to seeing our national symbols on cars around the country.'

But in the interim, thousands of motorists have been unwittingly breaking the law after the Government backtracked on a promise to legalise the display of Union Flags on number plates.

Under the new rules - which came into force yesterday - motorists in England, Scotland and Wales can legally display the Union flag, Cross of St George, Saltire or Red Dragon of Wales on the left hand side of the number plate, provided they are driving in the UK.

However, the UK flags will not be recognised by the European Union when British motorists drive to the Continent, and drivers risk a fine. Anyone with a UK flag on their number plates while driving abroad will, in addition, have to have an oval 'GB' sticker on the back of their car.

By contrast, UK drivers whose number plates bear the EU flag, of yellow stars on a blue background, will be legal abroad.

The Road Vehicles (Display of Registration Marks) Regulations 2001 make provision for the voluntary display of the blue European Flag with 'GB' within the circle of stars. The Department for Transport confirmed: 'This allows motorists to travel within the European Community without the need to display the conventional oval sticker to identify in which member state the vehicle is registered.'

In 2007, salesman Jones was stopped by Greater Manchester Police and given a 35 fixed penalty for having a Cross of Saint George sticker on the front number plate of his Vauxhall Astra.

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