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Awkward irony behind new UK passport

Now that the United Kingdom has officially left the European Union, it's time for a brand new British passport - in a bold shade of Brexit blue.

The UK will switch the colour of its passport from burgundy - a colour historically associated with Europe - to blue, which was the colour it used until 1988.

READ MORE: What do passport colours mean?

From early this year, new blue British passports will be issued alongside the current burgundy ones without the EU wording on them. All UK passports will be blue by mid-2020.

Burgundy passports are used by all EU member countries - except Croatia, which opts for a dark navy - so the colour change is an important symbol of Britain's resorted sovereignty and withdrawal from Europe.

 

The British passport is going back to blue.
The British passport is going back to blue.

Britain has long been nostalgic for its former blue passport, which a Newsnight report in 1995 described as "solid, sturdy and understated, like the front door of Number 10 (Downing Street), the radiator grill of a Rolls Royce, or the buildings of Whitehall".

The change to burgundy in 1988 was an attempt to align the country with Europe.

But while the iconic blue passport is making a comeback, it comes with a slightly uncomfortable catch.

RELATED: What will actually change now Britain has Brexited

The British company De La Rue, which had been the official manufacturer of the UK passport, will not be making the new blue ones.

Instead, that job has been taken over by French security firm Gemalto, which is listed on the French and Dutch stock exchanges, in a deal estimated to be worth about $964 million.

There was anger and confusion among pro-Brexiteers when Gemalto won the tender in 2018.

"This should be a moment that we should be celebrating. The return of our iconic blue passport will re-establish the British identity," former Cabinet minister Priti Patel said, adding: "It is a national humiliation."

"I am very sorry to hear it, as De La Rue has a factory in my constituency," Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

"It seems odd to have a national symbol produced abroad."

De La Rue, which is a British company despite its French name, criticised the UK Government's decision to award the passport contract to Gemalto in 2018.

"I'm going to have to go and face those (De La Rue) workers, look them in the whites of the eyes and try and explain to them why the British government thinks it's a sensible decision to buy French passports not British passports," the company's chief executive Martin Sutherland told BBC radio at the time.

"I'd like to invite (then prime minister) Theresa May or (interior minister) Amber Rudd to come to my factory and explain to my dedicated workforce why they think this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon."

De La Rue was last year forced to slash 170 jobs at its northern England factory.

 

A sample polycarbonate data page by Gemalto. Picture: Gemalto
A sample polycarbonate data page by Gemalto. Picture: Gemalto

 

Gemalto, for its part, is excited to bring back the iconic blue passport despite the controversy.

"Following the country's decision to leave the European Union, the award of the contract was challenged by some politicians and sections of the media," the company says on its website.

"However, the Home Office confirmed that the procurement process, which was conducted in strict compliance with EU regulations, had delivered the best value and a high-quality solution for the country."

It said the new British passport would be "one of the most technologically advanced anywhere in the world" and would feature a polycarbonate data page to help combat fraud.

New-generation Australian passports also have a polycarbonate data page - and De La Rue was awarded the contract to develop it in 2017.

The new UK passport would also be the first passport to achieve carbon neutral certification, which means its carbon footprint will be independently measured and reduced to net zero.

But it remains the same size - 125mm by 88mm - which complies with International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.


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