The last surviving Union Jack flown by
the Royal Navy at Trafalgar will remain in
Britain after ministers promised
to block any foreign attempts to buy it.
The flag will be auctioned in London today,
the anniversary of Admiral Lord Nelson's victory
over a joint French and Spanish fleet
off the Spanish coast in 1805.
It is expected to fetch at least £15,000.
Charles Miller, the auctioneer, has said
he believes it is the last surviving flag
flown during the battle.
Margaret Hodge, the culture minister, has said
that if the flag is bought by a foreign bidder,
she will impose a temporary export ban
on it to allow British museums or
other institutions to make a matching bid.
The case would then be referred to
the Reviewing Committee on the Export
of Works of Art and Objects
of Cultural Interest, which advises ministers
on which items should not be
allowed to leave Britain.
The 11ft x 7ft flag is pierced with holes
made by bullets and splinters of wood
from the impact of cannon shot.
It was flown on HMS Spartiate, one of 27 ships
of the line Nelson led into battle against
33 French and Spanish vessels after
signalling his fleet: England expects that
every man will do his duty.
Nelson's victory, which came at the cost
of his own life, was perhaps Britain's greatest
naval victory, confirming Britain's maritime
supremacy and ending any hope
Napoleon had of invading Britain.
The Franco-Spanish armada lost 22 ships,
either sunk or captured. Nelson's fleet
did not sustain a single loss.
Mrs Hodge said Trafalgar was one
of the pivotal moments in British history
and must be remembered.
"This flag is a poignant and unique memento
from that battle and I am ready to do
everything necessary to help keep it
in this country," she said.
"Generations to come should have the chance
to look at it and reflect on our
glorious history when 'England expected' and
our heroic sailors rose to the challenge."
Sent from Kigali, Rwanda