Tories voiced anger today at a ‘slap in the face’ move to drop traditional GB stickers for Brits driving abroad.
The legal emblem for bumpers and number plates is being switched to ‘UK’ from the end of September.
The change is intended to be more inclusive of Northern Ireland and will be seen as an attempt to win over unionists amid heightened tensions over post-Brexit border checks.
Northern Ireland is not a part of Great Britain which consists of England, Wales and Scotland.
However, the GB sticker has been used on cars from all parts of the UK when travelling abroad.
It means that people will now need a UK sticker to be legal on foreign roads. Any penalties for failing to comply will depend on the rules in specific countries.
The change to ‘UK’ will come just nine months after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps committed to a redesign to get rid of the EU’s stars from ‘GB’ number plate badges following Britain’s split from Brussels.
It is understood the Government privately notified the UN last week that it was changing the marking for vehicles registered in the United Kingdom from ‘GB’ and the behind-closed-doors nature of the decision is expected to spark fury.
The AA bemoaned the loss of the ‘famed’ GB sticker and said it amounted to ‘losing another element of British motoring’.
MPs are now urging Mr Shapps to think again, branding the move a waste of time and money.
It comes after a row in 2019 which saw Sinn Fein blast the UK Government after ministers said all UK-registered cars, including those in Northern Ireland, would have to display a ‘GB’ sticker when travelling to EU countries, including the Republic, after Brexit.
Sinn Fein figures rejected the call and said they would refuse to place a ‘GB’ sticker on their vehicles.
The legal emblem for bumpers and numberplates is being switched to ‘UK’ from the end of September
The AA bemoaned the loss of the ‘famed’ GB sticker and said it amounted to ‘losing another element of British motoring’
Previously new plates showed GB under a circle of EU stars, but on January 31 this year Mr Shapps said that would change to GB under the Union flag.
‘Brits will be able to drive on the Continent without GB stickers thanks to NEW reg plate with Union Flag & GB,’ he tweeted.
Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger told MailOnline he will be contacting Mr Shapps to ask why the latest change is happening.
‘That is a bit bloody rum,’ he said. ‘I can’t see the point. It seems to me to be a complete waste of money when we don’t need to be wasting money.
‘It also seems to be a slap in the face for people who are proud to be GB.’
He added: ‘It is a waste of time, a waste of money and I don’t know why we are bothering…
‘We have gone from Grande Bretagne to Royaume-Uni, which isn’t the same at all.’
Edmund King, the president of the AA, expressed disappointment at the prospect of losing what he described as part of ‘our motoring heritage’.
He told The Telegraph: ‘From a heritage point of view, we have lots of classic cars, such as Jaguars, Spitfires, and so on, that have metal GB signs on the rear of the car.
‘Now I don’t propose that they take them off but what they will now have to do is have a tacky plastic UK sticker alongside it.
‘So from a historic perspective, we have lost the tax disk on the windscreen and we are now losing another element of British motoring, the famed GB sticker.’
Government sources told The Sunday Times that the change will make things more ‘inclusive of Northern Ireland’.
They said using the ‘UK’ badge will help to ‘promote the whole of the UK abroad’.
Some number plates in Northern Ireland feature the different country code of ‘NI’ but ‘GB’ is the only officially-recognised code.
Oval ‘NI’ badges were often displayed on vehicles in Northern Ireland before the advent of modern number plates.
The attempt to show UK unity comes amid a rumbling post-Brexit row with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol which has inflamed community tensions.
The implementation of border checks in the Irish Sea on goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland has provoked unionist fury.
They believe the Brexit customs checks create an unacceptable economic barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Changing the number plate sticker from GB to UK will be seen as an attempt to send a clear message about Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
MPs are urging Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) to think again, branding the move a waste of time and money
One Tory MP told MailOnline they believed the change could provide a boost and strengthen the UK amid the ongoing strain caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
They said: ‘The United Kingdom is stronger because it has the link with Northern Ireland because if you say Great Britain you are excluding Northern Ireland.
‘I can see the logic of having United Kingdom because it strengthens our ties with Northern Ireland.
‘I think it strengthen the ties at a time when we have got a problem.’
The decision to change the sticker comes almost two years after the Government said all UK-registered cars, including those in Northern Ireland, would have to display a GB sticker when travelling to the Republic of Ireland or any EU country after Brexit.
Similar advice had been in place before Brexit but the rules were rarely enforced. Britain’s divorce from the EU prompted ministers to tighten the guidance to avoid travellers facing potential problems.
However, the instruction sparked a furious response from Sinn Fein, with senior figures adamant that they would not put a ‘GB’ sticker on their vehicles before crossing to the Republic.
The new number plate rules are due to come into force on September 28 this year.
One numberplate supplier has warned it will need four to six months to bring in UK versions.
The history of the GB car sticker
Oval stickers for cars – including the ‘GB’ one that is set to disappear from September – have their origins in an international agreement dating from 1909.
The Convention with Respect to the International Circulation of Motor Vehicles was signed by 19 countries, including Great Britain.
It mandated that the ‘distinctive mark’ of a country of origin needed to consist of an ‘oval plate’ which had to be 30cm (11.8inches) in width and 18cm (7inches) in height.
Oval stickers for cars – including the ‘GB’ one that is set to disappear from September – have their origins in an international agreement dating from 1909. Above British people abroad in Italy in 1933. Their cars are seen displaying a ‘GB’ sign
It added that the sign had to bear ‘one or two letters painted in black upon a white background’.
The signifiers for each of the signatories of the convention were: D for Germany; A for Austria; B for Belgium; E for Spain; US for the United States of America; F for France; GB for Great Britain and Ireland; GR for Greece; H for Hungary; I for Italy; MN for Montenegro; MC for Monaco; NL for the Netherlands; P for Portugal; R for Russia; RM for Romania; SB for Serbia; S for Sweden and CH for Switzerland.
Since 1909, the convention has been updated three times, as more nations have been added.
The sticker that currently exists on cars dates from the 1969 update, which fell under the auspices of the United Nations.
The update changed the regulations for necessary size of the display, so the modern stickers are now far smaller than the original 1909 signs.
Modern stickers are now far smaller than the original 1909 signs
Since 1922 – when most of Ireland became independent but Northern Ireland remained part of the UK – drivers in Northern Ireland continued to display the GB sticker, even though the province was not part of Great Britain.
Today, drivers from Northern Ireland still need to display the GB sticker when driving in Europe, unless their number plate already includes the signifier.
There is no separate official ‘NI’ sticker to represent Northern Ireland, although unofficial versions do exist.
Great Britain is a geographic term which refers to the island of Britain (which is made up of England, Scotland and Wales).
The agreement said the sign had to bear ‘one or two letters painted in black upon a white background’. Pictured: Children stand in front of a car with the GB sticker in 1970
By contrast, the UK (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is a political term for the independent nation which encompasses both the island of Britain and the province of Northern Ireland.
Speaking of the Government’s decision to replace GB with UK on number plates, the AA’s head of road policy Jack Cousens said: ‘It’s been there for 111 years. It is a big chunk of motoring heritage there that is being evaporated.
‘In the previous 111 years I’m sure there must have been times where it would have been appropriate to do it. Why now?’