In this file photo taken on December 25, 2012 Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York, leaves following the Royal family Christmas Day church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk, in the east of England, on December 25, 2012. (AFP/Leon Neal)
The British government said Thursday it had changed the policy of flying flags on royal birthdays, with local authorities no longer required to raise the Union Flag for scandal-hit Prince Andrew.
Officials earlier said they were considering how the policy applied "in changing circumstances, such as when members of the royal family step back from their duties", according to a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The government later said it would be advising councils "that there is no requirement to fly flags on the 19th February following the decision by the Duke of York to step back from public duties for the foreseeable future".
The Sun newspaper had published a leaked email sent to local authorities reminding them to fly the British flag for Andrew's 60th birthday on February 19.
It came just weeks after Queen Elizabeth II's second son withdrew from public life and royal duties after a disastrous television interview defending his friendship with the late US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Flying flags on government buildings in his honor "would be wholly inappropriate", opposition Labour lawmaker Wes Streeting told The Sun daily.
Johnson's spokesman said the email, sent by a civil servant in the local government ministry, was an "administrative email about long-standing policy".
He said discussions were under way between the ministry and the Royal Household about a change.
Designated days for flying the British flag on UK government buildings include the birthdays of Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip, their wedding day, the birthdays of their four children and of their grandson Prince William and his wife Kate.
Andrew has strenuously denied claims he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured by Epstein, a financier found dead in prison last August while awaiting charges of trafficking minors.
But there was a public outcry after the prince gave a BBC interview last November, where he failed to explain adequately why he did not cut off ties with his friend earlier than he did, or to express much empathy with Epstein's alleged victims.
A US prosecutor last month said Andrew had provided "zero cooperation" to the investigation into Epstein's activities.
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