'The flag is upside down!': Boris Johnson's plane gets new paint job

Flying the Union Jack upside down is actually still illegal in the UK.
Flying the Union Jack upside down is actually still illegal in the UK. Photo credit: Getty.

The aircraft used by Boris Johnson has been given a paint job costing nearly NZ$2 million after the British prime minister labeled its previous grey appearance as "not up to scratch".

Johnson ordered that his plane get a "Brexit makeover" that would act as a flying billboard promoting the UK at the same time as transporting senior members of the government or members of the Royal Family.

The PM got his way and "Hair Force One", as it's been dubbed, was unveiled over the weekend.

But not everyone was as thrilled with the new paint job as Johnson.

Photos posted on social media sparked instant debate as to whether the flag on the aircraft's tail was painted upside down.

"HAHA! Wait a f**kin minute! The tail is painted wrong! The right-hand top quarter of the union flag on the tail is incorrect. The red bar should be at the top half of the white, not the bottom!" Martin Jennings posted on Twitter.

The possibility that the aircraft used by the Queen and her government may have the flag painted upside down isn't just a trivial matter, it would in fact be illegal.

When flown upside down, the Union Jack is considered to be a distress signal and even worse it's also "lese Majeste", which means insulting the Crown.  This would make it an offence in the UK and all commonwealth countries.

The Prime Minister's office has denied there is any issue with the Union Jack and that all correct protocols have been followed.

So who is right?

Well, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The flag on the tail is no different to a flag flying on a pole: on one side it's correct, while on the other side it appears to be the wrong way around.

"When viewing the starboard side, this can give the mistaken impression that the design is backwards, or upside down, when in fact the observer is simply viewing the reverse side of the flag," a government official said in a statement.

The mysterious backwards flags.
The mysterious backwards flags. Photo credit: Getty.

The cockpit has always been considered the "flagpole" of the aircraft. The same issue occurs on just about all aircraft that have their country's flag painted on the side.

So the Union Jack on the tail may not be an offence against the Queen, but commentators have also raised questions about the choice of font and its golden colouring - some might also say that's criminal.