|Union Flag, Union Jack, British flag, UK flag|
|Use||National flag |
|Adopted||1 January 1801|
|Design||A white-fimbriated symmetric red cross on a blue field with a white-fimbriated counterchanged saltire of red and white.|
|Alternate 3:5 ratio|
|Use||Civil ensign |
|Design||A red field with the Union Flag in the canton. See Red Ensign.|
|Use||State ensign |
|Design||A blue field with the Union Flag in the canton. See Blue Ensign.|
|Use||Naval ensign |
|Design||A symmetric red cross on a white field with the Union Flag in the canton. See White Ensign.|
|Royal Air Force Ensign|
|Use||Air force ensign|
|Design||A field of air force blue with the Union Flag in the canton and the RAF roundel in the middle of the fly.|
The national flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Jack, also known as the Union Flag.[a]
The design of the Union Jack dates back to the Act of Union 1801, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland (previously in personal union) to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The flag consists of the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England, which also represents Wales), edged in white, superimposed on the saltire of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), also edged in white, which are superimposed on the saltire of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland). Wales is not represented in the Union Flag by Wales's patron saint, Saint David, because the flag was designed whilst Wales was part of the Kingdom of England.
The flag proportions on land and the war flag used by the British Army have the proportions 3:5. The flag's height-to-length proportions at sea are 1:2.
The earlier flag of Great Britain was established in 1606 by a proclamation of King James VI and I of Scotland and England. The new flag of the United Kingdom was officially created by an Order in Council of 1801, with its blazon reading as follows:
The Union Flag shall be azure, the Crosses saltire of Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick quarterly per saltire, counter-changed, argent and gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of Saint George of the third fimbriated as the saltire.
No official standardised colours were specified, although the Flag Institute defines the red and royal blue colours as Pantone 186 C and Pantone 280 C, respectively.
The Union Flag can be flown by any individual or organisation in Great Britain 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.
While the flag appears symmetric, the white lines above and below the diagonal red are different widths. On the side closer to the flagpole (or on the left when depicted on paper), the white lines above the diagonals are wider; on the side farther from the flagpole (or on the right when depicted on paper), the converse is true. Thus, no change will be apparent when rotating the flag 180 degrees, 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.
Because of the relative positions of the saltires of St Patrick and St Andrew, the UK flag is not symmetrical. The red saltire of St Patrick is offset such that it does not relegate the white saltire of St Andrew to a mere border. St Andrew's saltire has the higher position at the hoist side with St Patrick's saltire in the higher position on the opposite side.
The Union Flag is flown from Government buildings at half-mast in the following situations:
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.
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 British national identity. Other Government departments were asked to follow this lead, and all Government buildings in Whitehall did so.
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.
The flag days directed by the DCMS include birthdays of members of the Royal Family, the wedding anniversary of the Monarch, Commonwealth Day, Accession Day, Coronation Day, The King's official birthday, Remembrance Sunday and (in the Greater London area) on the days of the State Opening and prorogation of Parliament.
Since 2022, the relevant days have been:
In addition, the flag should be flown in the following areas on the specified days:
Some non-central government bodies still continue to follow the flag days.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government has decreed that the Flag of Scotland ("the Saltire") will fly on all its buildings every day from 8 am 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:
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.
In November 2007 the then culture minister Margaret Hodge said she would consider a redesign of the Union Flag to incorporate the Welsh dragon, during a debate in the House of Commons on the frequency with which the flag flies above public buildings. The issue was initially raised by Ian Lucas, another Labour MP, who complained that the flag introduced in 1606 following the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne as James I assumed the Welsh population as English under the bracket of England and Wales (represented by the cross of St George) which he then combined with the saltire of St Andrew which represented the union of England and Scotland. This principle continued in 1801 when the St Patrick cross was incorporated following the Union with Ireland Act 1800. Lucas claimed the identity of Wales had been suppressed ever since the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. In the debate, Albert Owen MP said that "we in Wales do not feel part of the union flag because the dragon or the cross of St David is not on it." Conservative MP Stewart Jackson described the comments as "eccentric".
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.
As of 2013, numerous proposals were made about how the Union Flag might be altered to create a flag for the union of England, Wales and Northern Ireland after possible Scottish independence. The College of Arms stated that there would be no need to change the flag in those circumstances, and the existing flag could continue to be used if desired. Regarding the removal of Scottish heraldic features from the Union Flag, the Court of the Lord Lyon stated in 2012 that "[that] would be speculation at this stage, and we could only cross that bridge if we came to it."
According to the Flag Institute: "It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From early in its life, the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use" In 1902, an Admiralty Circular announced that Their Lordships had decided that either name could be used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". Notwithstanding Their Lordships' circular of 1902, by 1913, the Admiralty described the "Union Flag" and added in a footnote that 'A Jack is a Flag to be flown only on the "Jack" Staff'.
The etymology of "Jack" in the context of flagstaffs reaches back to Middle German. The suffix -kin was used in Middle Dutch and Middle German as a diminutive. Examples occur in both Chaucer and Langland though the form is unknown in Old English. John is a common male forename (going back to the Bible), appearing in Dutch as Jan. Both languages use it as a generic form for a man in general. The two were combined in the Middle Dutch Janke, whence Middle French Jakke and Middle English Jack. Jack came to be used to identify all manner of particularly small objects or small versions of larger ones. The OED has definition 21 "Something insignificant, or smaller than the normal size" and gives examples from 1530 to 2014 of this usage. Further examples in the compounds section at 2b illustrate this. The original maritime flag use of jack was "A ship's flag of a smaller size than the ensign, used at sea as a signal, or as an identifying device". The Jack was flown in the bows or from the head of the spritsail mast to indicate the vessel's nationality: "You are alsoe for this present service to keepe in yor Jack at yor Boultspritt end and yor Pendant and yor Ordinance" The Union Flag when instantiated as a small jack became known as the "Union Jack" and this later term transferred to more general usage of the Union Flag.Also later a short flagpole was placed in the bows of a ship to fly the jack, this became known as the jackstaff.