MPs rebuke Foreign Secretary over ‘ban’ on embassies flying Pride flag

MPs have rebuked the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond over an ongoing ban on the Pride flag being flown from embassies or the Foreign Office.

Mr Hammond came under fire last year over a memo sent to British embassies ahead of Pride Month, ‘reminding’ them of a policy that blocks any flag other than the Union Flag being flown.

Former Foreign Secretaries David Miliband and William Hague had both permitted rainbow flags to be flown in spite of the rule – but under Mr Hammond the FCO has sought to reinstate the blanket policy.

The FCO also opted not to fly the rainbow flag from its Whitehall office for Pride in London, despite other government departments doing so.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee singled out the apparent changes for criticism in a Parliamentary report this week – noting the move may be seen as confusing given the FCO’s continued lobbying on LGBT rights abroad.

The report, authored by out Tory MP Crispin Blunt states: “We, along with many others, noticed the FCO’s decision not to fly the Rainbow Flag for London Pride in 2015, which reversed the policy of the previous Foreign Secretary and separated the FCO from the numerous other Government departments which did fly the Rainbow Flag.

“The decision by the current Foreign Secretary not to fly the Rainbow Flag at FCO buildings for Pride 2015 signalled an apparent change in FCO policy and sent a message that contradicts much of the actual work and objectives of the FCO.”

The report adds: “We recommend that the FCO reverses its decision not to fly the Rainbow Flag for national Pride events.

“In the absence of such events due to host nation intolerance of equality around sexuality, the FCO should fly the Rainbow Flag from Missions abroad alongside the Union Flag on IDAHOT Day (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia).”

The FCO maintains that it is simply enforcing pre-existing policies – despite a statement in 2008 suggesting the decision to fly rainbow flags around Pride events could be “taken up by each embassy”.

Elsewhere, the report questioned the ‘deprioritisation’ of human rights in international diplomacy, as the UK grows close ties with oppressive regimes including Saudi Arabia.
MPs rebuke Foreign Secretary over ‘ban’ on embassies flying Pride flag
The committee wrote: “Whilst the Minister strongly rejected the suggestion that the FCO has deprioritised human rights, the written evidence that we received indicates that there is plainly a perception that this has occurred.

“Perceptions and symbols matter, particularly in the context of the UK’s soft power and international influence.

“We recommend that the FCO is more mindful of the perceptions it creates at Ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security, as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”