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Vexillologists vexed as UK fails to fly the flag for territories

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Flags hang from masts at the Trooping of the Colour, with soldiers parading beneath them
Flags of St Helena and other UK islands ‘will fly at state occasions,’ says FCO. Picture by hapticflapjack/flickr

There’s been a bit of a flap on in the corridors of Whitehall, over a broken promise to Britain’s overseas territories.

When the UK government announced that the flags of islands such as St Helena were to be flown at state occasions, it was seen as a way of signifying their importance to the mother country.

St Helena flag - blue with the union flag in one corner, and a shield on the right showing a wirebird and a sailing ship approaching the island
St Helena’s flag

They were meant to flap happily alongside the flags of Commonwealth nations at the Jubilee celebrations and the Trooping of the Colour – but come the day, they weren’t there.

This did not go down well in the office of Andrew Rosindell MP, Parliament’s chief vexillologist (noun: a person who knows about flags).

And Foreign Minister Henry Bellingham, who makes frequent speeches about how much the territories matter to Britain, was cross.

With a White Paper expected this week, setting out the UK government’s plans for a stronger relationship with the territories, the timing was not good.

The absence of the flags at the Trooping the Colour celebration – marking the Queen’s official birthday – was reported to St Helena Online by a source in the diplomatic community.

The crest of the Parliamentary flags group features a lion waving a flag (screen grab)
MPs have their own flag-waving group

“We were furious,” said the source. “I guess it’s a victim of the Jubilee. They left the Union Jacks up along The Mall, so I suppose they didn’t have enough flag poles.”

The real reason was less exciting, according to the chap in the office of Andrew Rosindell MP, who put forward the flag-waving idea. Mr Rosindell chairs the all-party groups in Parliament for both the overseas territories and – yes – flags.

Starbuck Coleman said: “We understand there was a procurement problem, in that the factory and what-not could not provide the appropriate flags in time.

“Andrew spoke to the minister: they are both very annoyed.

“It’s a shame. They were meant to be ready for the Diamond Jubilee weekend. We are very frustrated by it but it’s one of those things.”

A missive from the FCO press office confirms Starbuck’s version of events. It says:

“We have agreed with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS], who lead on flag flying, that the flags of the overseas territories and Crown dependencies will be flown on future ceremonial occasions.

“We want to raise awareness of the territories in the UK. This will be an effective way of demonstrating the importance of the territories.

“We regret that we were not able to procure the necessary flags and flagpoles successfully in time for this summer’s events.”

Oddly, the Department of Communities had no trouble getting hold of a Falkland Islands flag when it needed one.

The South Atlantic Remote Territories Media Association (Sartma) reports that it flew the flag outside its Whitehall headquarters on the 30th anniversary of the island’s liberation from Argentinian occupation.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has decreed that all the overseas territories are to be similarly recognised by the DCMS on significant days, says Sartma.

“Mr Pickles has asked for the flags of the territories – from Anguilla to the Turks and Caicos Islands – to be proudly flown by the Department as part of a formal recognition of the continued important and close relationship with the country. This follows from a programme of flying England’s county flags last year.”

What special occasions will be marked for the other South Atlantic islands, one wonders? St Helena Day, obviously; and for Tristan da Cunha, how about Ratting Day? And the flag of Ascension – “a souped-up labour camp”, as ex-governor Andrew Gurr described it recently – will presumably be flown on Pay Day.

Territories athlete makes a leap for Olympic glory

Come the 2012 Olympics, “the importance of the territories” may make a leap into the public conscious in London.

If Shara Proctor wins the gold medal for Britain in August, she could make her lap of honour draped in the flag of one of its Caribbean territories.

Shara, from Anguilla, is seen as one of Britain’s best medal prospects – even though the Telegraph has revealed that, as of 23 June 2012, she has yet to set foot in England.

Her story illustrated the level of ignorance about the territories in the UK, with one newspaper wrongly branding her as one of several “plastic Brits” who would be competing for Britain despite not really being British. Anguillans, who are every bit as British as Saints and Falkland Islanders, were outraged.

Shara has said that if she wins a medal for Britain, in her heart, it will be for Anguilla.

Island flags ‘will be flown’ at state occasions

Pickles flies the flag for territories – Sartma
London 2012 Olympics: Shara Proctor – The Telegraph
The Flags Institute (includes all overseas territories flags)
Shara Proctor jumps for Britain – Anguillan News

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