The Home Office has announced that it will spend almost £500m on passports for British citizens once the UK has left the European Union, suggesting that there will be a possible return to the old dark-blue passports.
Since last June’s referendum, some pro-Brexiteers and campaign groups have called for the return of the old-style blue passports to replace the current burgundy-red ones carried by all EU citizens.
The Home Office has requested that any businesses interested in applying for the £490m redesign project should get in touch with them. The new passports are set to start being issued in 2019. The government has stressed that this is nothing to do with the exit process and is because the current contract is ending.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are launching the procurement process now to ensure there is sufficient time to produce and design UK passports from 2019 when the current contract ends”.
“The timing of any potential changes to the passport after the UK has left the EU has not been set.”
Brexiteers are celebrating the anticipated return of the blue passports, which were first introduced in 1920 and later replaced with the machine-readable maroon design in 1988. Those in favour of the return of blue passports include Marc Woolfson, actress Liz Hurley, and Hungarian fashionista Geta Lenovo who called the old design “glamorous and exciting”.
She added: “I was born in Hungary but moved here in 1976 when I married my first Husband, Eric. I feel as British as anyone could feel and still remember the pride I felt on receiving my first blue British passport. It’s hard to explain, but I guess I finally felt accepted and part of this great nation. Let’s bring back the old passports and make Britain great again”.
In 1981, Brussels declared that all member states must have a European passport within four years, but the UK didn’t comply for seven.
There were huge protests from the Brits when the EU wanted to have the words “Her Britannic Majesty” removed from British passports, and even more protests in 2000 when Brussels attempted another attack on our identity by planning to introduce the 12-star European emblem instead of the Queen’s crest.
The Home Office have stressed that Brits will only have to pay for a new passport once their old one expires, even if the UK has left the EU by then.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chairman of the Flags and Heraldry Committee, was among the first of the MPs to call for the return of the old-style blue passports.
“It’s a matter of identity. Having the pink European passports has been a source of humiliation. It merged us into one European identity, which isn’t what we are.”
“The old dark-blue design was a distinct, clear and bold statement of what it means to be British, which is just what our citizens need as they travel abroad after Brexit.”
But many other MPs laughed at the idea that burgundy passports made them feel “humiliated”, including outspoken Labour MP Gavin Shuker who said on Twitter: “Customer reports pink (sic) colour infecting passport: remove and replace”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking of Mr Rosindell’s comments, said: “The real source of humiliation is a government worrying about the colour of our passports while a social care and NHS crisis rages”.
Many ‘Remainer’ MPs have said that the importance placed by Brexiteers on the symbolic worth of the blue passports shows they have their priorities entirely misplaced as the UK begins the arduous process of its separation from the EU.
Labour MP David Lammy, who voted firmly against the triggering of Article 50, tweeted: “Schools in Tottenham are facing £20m cuts between now and 2020. Would much prefer funding our schools instead of blue passports”.
But some of the small number of pro-Brexit Labour MPs has surprisingly come out in favour of the blue passports, including controversial Birkenhead MP Frank Field, who says that their return will “help cement the UK’s identity after Brexit”.
Mr Field said: “It’s all about establishing our identity as an independent country. It doesn’t mean we are cutting ourselves off from the rest of world, but that we are different”.
Whatever firm wins the decade-long passport contract will produce six million of them a year.
UK passports, which currently cost £72.50 each for adults and £46 each for children, are made by the private security company De La Rue, which also designs and prints UK banknotes.
Its 10-year contract is due to expire in 2019, although the firm is widely expected to bid to produce the new passports.