Thinking of taking a road trip away from the United Kingdom this Autumn or later? Allow us to chuck in an unexpected (but not especially arduous) complication: that GB sticker/magnetic plate you were going to slap on the boot of your car will no longer be valid.
The GB designation that’s been in use for 111 years will be switched to ‘UK’ from late September. If you have a number plate with GB printed on it, meanwhile, you’ll need to run a UK sticker in addition, or order one of the new UK plates.
The United Nations said last week that it had received “a notification stating that the United Kingdom is changing the distinguishing sign that it had previously selected for display in international traffic on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom, from ‘GB’ to ‘UK’”. The change only applies to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and “does not extend to any territories for the international relations of which the United Kingdom is responsible,” the UK government said in its letter to the UN. The change starts on 28 September 2021.
Although an official reason for all this hasn’t been given, it’s thought to be a sign of solidarity with Northern Ireland amidst tricky post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union. While the term ‘Great Britain’ refers only to the landmass made up of England, Scotland and Wales, ‘United Kingdom’ includes Northern Ireland.
All of this comes mere months after the government unveiled new GB-designated number plates that switched the European Union stars for a Union Jack flag. Along with these, some UK-marked Union Jack number plates (below), are already in circulation. In a changeable couple of years for the humble British number plate, we’ve also seen the adoption of green plates for EVs, which we’ve seen with both UK and GB markings, and some just with the green band.
At the time of writing, the government had yet to formally announce the rules, and the Gov.uk advice site for driving in the EU still only mentioned the soon-to-be-defunct GB designation. The AA seems to have been among the first to notice the impending change, which renders the 50,000 GB stickers it has in stock almost worthless.
As well as (understandably) being irked by this, the company has also raised concerns about those road-tripping in older cars. “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,” AA president Edmund King told The Telegraph, adding, “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.”