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By Jonathan Isaby
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Earlier on this week, Labour peer and former Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lord Anderson of Swansea asked Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell of Guildford why the European flag was not flown from 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office on Europe Day (For the uninitiated, that is on May 9th).
Lord Howell replied that 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office take "a straightforward approach" – that is to fly the union flag "at all times, with limited exceptions mainly for the patron saints' days for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."
Lord Anderson claimed this was a change of policy from the previous government, asking "In what way do such silly gestures serve our national interest?"
Lord Howell of Guildford replied that it was "absurd" so suggest that the flying of flags was any indication of the policy of commitment:
"If we flew the flag for every relationship with every multilateral organisation, we would be for ever hoisting flags and taking them down again. There is frankly no relationship between our activist and forward position on the European Union-we are playing a major part, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister over the weekend-and the actual flying of flags, which is not the intention of 10 Downing Street."
Lord Clinton-Davis, a former EU Commissioner, said that many people would view the Government's failure to fly the European flag on May 9th as "rather small-minded and counterproductive" and "to be deplored".
But Lord Howell again brushed off the criticism:
"He is again associating No. 10's wish to fly the flags that I described with a symbolism far beyond the reality. The reality is that decisions about flags are one matter and our policy, commitment, strategy and the centrality of the European Union in our foreign policy are another, to which we give the greatest possible importance and adherence."