A change in the law allowing national flags and symbols to appear on number plates could land drivers in trouble with police if they travel abroad, motoring organisations warned today.
Transport Minister John Spellar said the Union Jack, Cross of St George, Scottish Saltire or Welsh Dragon could appear on registration plates following a DVLA review.
“It is what the people of England, Scotland and Wales have asked for and strengthens their feeling of national identity,” he said.
British drivers could also include the letters ENG, SCO and CYM on plates, he added as he unveiled new-style plates outside the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions in central London.
An overhaul in the car registration system in September said drivers could only carry the EU flag and the letters GB on their number plates.
Scottish and Welsh nationalists complained that many people had already been using national flags and symbols, although they were technically illegal.
But the AA today said that many motorists with a national flag or symbol on their plates would not know that they must still display a separate GB sticker when travelling outside the UK.
It was a “tremendous drawback” that not having regulation EU plates could land motorists in hot water with foreign authorities, according to head of roads and transport policy Paul Watters.
“We are worried that people from Scotland, Wales or England will sail off abroad with their Saltire, dragon or St George’s cross and will fall foul of the law,” he said.
“It just needs one bolshy policeman in some far out place in Spain who doesn’t recognise SCO or CYM, or who is looking to make a name for himself, to cause a lot of problems.”
Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, the campaigning arm of the RAC, welcomed the change, but said it could be a problem abroad.
“I think the Government has shown flexibility in allowing it. There was an outcry by Scottish and Welsh drivers at not being able to show their nationality,” he said.
“But obviously the Government must remind drivers that their national symbols are not as well recognised in Europe and they will need GB stickers as well.”
Mr Spellar dismissed the claims, saying that foreign countries would be unlikely to prosecute drivers whose cars carried the new plates.
“Essentially what they are wanting is a clear way of identifying the country of origin of vehicles, but I do not think they will want to prosecute people who are bringing in a lot of tourist cash,” he added.