Councils across England will be told to display the EU flag after the government dipped into a high street Covid recovery fund, the Independent has reported.
The blue and yellow symbol of European unity will be displayed around “every piece of signage, pavement sticker, or temporary public realm adaption” funded under the scheme.
The requirement, which will see thousands of new EU flags posted on official buildings and in public places across the country, exists because the European Regional Development Fund has given money to the UK to help with the Covid-19 reopening.
Despite Brexit having happened, under the withdrawal agreement the UK is still eligible for certain payments from the fund until the end of 2023 – but with strings attached.
The flag rule, imposed from Brussels but enforced from Whitehall, is embarrassing for ministers because they are keen to rid UK public buildings of EU flags, but do not want to turn down the Covid recovery cash.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced in only March that it was repealing planning rules dating back to 2007 in a bid to make it harder to fly EU flags.
And some Brexiteers have claimed that leaving the EU has made it easier to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the Welcome Back Fund, councils have been given £56 million EU cash to “support the return to high streets safely and to build back better from the pandemic”.
The fund, administered by the government in Westminster, is being spent on adaptions to high streets to “promote a safe environment for local trade and tourism, particularly in high streets as their economies reopen”.
Virtually every local authority in England is getting some of the cash, with the biggest recipient Leave-voting Birmingham, which has landed over £1 million in funding.
Liberal Democrat frontbencher Christine Jardine told The Independent: “This shows the absurd hypocrisy of this Conservative government.
“They have spent years denouncing EU projects and pulling the UK out of funding schemes like this, and now they have the gall to trumpet a fund made possible by exactly the sort of European cooperation they are turning their backs on.
“Instead of worrying about displaying the EU flag, the government should be working hard to support the thousands of struggling high street businesses – starting with extending the furlough scheme that’s due to taper off next week.”
According to an MHCLG spokesperson, the flag rules come from the EU and “is not a UK Government requirement.
“Now that we’ve left the EU, this funding will be replaced by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
“We are ramping up UK-wide domestic funding to at least match what the EU currently offers – reaching around £1.5 billion a year.”
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