Britain's plan to revert to blue passports has Brexiteers elated. But they are upset by news that German and French printers might beat a British bidder amid a Home Office call for tenders EU-wide.
The British pro-and-anti Brexit debate focused Saturday on the prospect that from 2019 British passports could end up being "made in Europe" with a retro look and without the EU's common burgundy-colored livery.
This followed Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis' announcement Friday that the contract allocation for the "unique blue passport" would be made in "spring next year."
London's The Times newspaper said the contract to design and produce British travel documents from 2019, published under EU business transparency rules and priced at 490 million pounds (€553 million), "has yet to be signed."
But post-Brexit, new-issue passports "could be produced by a European company" during the contract's 11-year span, it speculated.
The Home Office's tendering process had set April 24, 2017, as the deadline for expressions of interest. It issues some 6 million passports annually.
Earlier in the week, British media reported widely that two unnamed printeries — one German, one French — had since been short-listed alongside Britain's De La Rue.
The firm headquartered in Gateshead confirmed to Deutsche Welle Saturday that it was bidding as "part of the procurement process."
Made in Berlin?
On Friday, Conservative parliamentarian Mark Pritchard asked the Commons whether it was aware that the new British passport "could be designed and printed in Germany — made in Berlin rather than made in Britain?"
House leader Andrea Leadsom, a former corporate governance banker from the same party, replied that Britain had to "compete on a level playing field."
Pritchard also touched on the debate about whether old passports — issued to Britons from 1920 until 1988 when Britain switched to the EU's burgundy ones — had actually been dark blue or "black" as he insisted.
Passport color and design became a key issue among Brexit supporters last year as they campaigned ahead of Britain's narrow referendum decision to quit the EU.
"The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty — symbolizing our citizenship of a proud, great nation," tweeted Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday.
The tabloid The Sun, which had campaigned for retro passports, claimed that the EU's burgundy design had been "forced on the nation."
Many respondents, including the Irish news website journal.ie, replied, however, that Britain could have kept the old dark color under existing EU practices on passport design.
Nonbinding features agreed since 1981 by EU nations include the burgundy [purplish red] color, the typeface and the words "European Union" above the country name.
Blue instead of health care?
Conservative Brexit opponent Anna Soubry retorted: "Stand by for street parties as blue passports return."
"Not sure they'll make up for broken #Leave promise of [an] extra 350 million pounds for NHS," Soubry added, citing Brexiteers' past vows to divert British EU contributions into the British public health system.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said London's intended dumping of the EU design amounted to "insular, inward-looking, blue passport-obsessed nonsense."
ipj/tj (AFP, Reuters)