Back in September 2001 the ‘Display of Registration Marks’ act was passed by Parliament to standardise the format of number plates. The legislation looked at the font and size of the plates to make them readable to humans and to machines, such as speed cameras. All of the specifications followed on from, and are within the specifications set out in EC Council Regulation 2411/98. Within the legislation it was decreed that the only national emblem permitted on UK number plates is the 12 star ring of the EU, with two letters to denote the country of registration, i.e. GB.
At the time this met with public outrage, and a number of news outlets and newspapers carried this story. A lot of people had purchased cars and personalised plates in the years prior to 2001 that had the Union Flag, or St George Cross, Scottish Saltire, or Welsh Dragon. Under the law, display of any symbol other that the EU Flag carries up to an £1,000 fine. Furthermore, it is an MOT failure for the car. The legislation allows as an alternative that no symbol be carried, meaning that the choices are no symbol or the EU symbol.
In December 2001, John Spellar the Minister for Transport announced that after overwhelming public opinion and because of calls from the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament that the law would be reviewed. In the meantime police were not to prosecute people for having emblems other than the EU flag. The legislation was to be changed to ensure that motorists would not be prosecuted, and the laws were to be devolved to the Scottish and Welsh legislatures. In fact the statement says "The Government has decided to legislate to allow the voluntary display of national flags and symbols on vehicle number plates. It is what the people of England, Scotland and Wales have asked for and strengthens their feeling of national identity.
Fast-forward to January 2009 and the revised law has not been made through Parliament, and these powers have not been devolved. The law still stands ultimately at European level. EC Council Regulation 2411/98 says – Member States are required to recognise number plates that confirm with this regulation. However, this format is recognised as optional in Finland, Sweden and the UK. If it is optional, why has the law not been changed in the UK?
The DVLA V796 form makes no mention of the UK’s various symbols being allowed. However, some websites that advertise personalised number plates state that they are allowed to use the Scottish Saltire or the Welsh Dragon see Here and Here. However, this site states that only the EU flag may be used where a national emblem is requested.
This whole situation is another example of the UK being overzealous in the interpretation of EU laws, how frustrating and unnecessary these decisions can be. It is the UK Government, not the EU, that has chosen legislate so as to make illegal number plates carrying our national emblems. The UK Government has made the requirement that the EU flag be shown where an emblem is placed, or no emblem be allowed at all. It has done so not at the insistence of European Commission regulation, but chose to do so, on its own initiative. The subsequent announcement to revise the law can be held up as another example of the Labour Government making announcements to quell popular distain that they never had any intention of honouring.
I hope that no one has been prosecuted, fined or met with a MOT failure because of this debacle. If you have, I think you should definitely take this up with your MP, and that you have a strong case for financial and legal recompense.
I personally, will never identify myself with this EU creation of nationhood. I consider myself English and British, as do most people in England. Continued attempts by the EU and the UK government to impose a Euro-nationalism are offensive and dangerous. It is shocking that we can ask people to go represent our nation by fighting in wars for us, by representing us on the field of play in sports and at the Olympics, by representing the UK abroad in trade, in commerce, as an ambassador; only to have that representation upon our vehicles deemed so outrageous that it warrants a fine, and road unworthiness.
I attribute the existence of this and of other perplections of EU association directly to the absence of regular and involved national debate in the UK about our continued membership and its implications.