LONDON – A storm blew up in the United Kingdom on Thursday when news broke that British passports are set to be produced in Europe by a French-Netherlands-based company after Brexit.
Britons who voted to leave the European Union had expressed satisfaction that the EU’s burgundy-colored passport was to be replaced by a blue and gold document first introduced in 1921 when the UK was a global power.
“The UK passport is an icon of national identity and we believe it should be manufactured in the UK by a British company,” the former passport manufacturer said after losing a competitive tender to make the documents to a continental rival.
Martin Sutherland, director of De La Rue LLC, a British security printing company specialized in banknote manufacturing and security printing of passports said the new contract valued at 490 million pounds ($690 million) had been awarded to Gemalco, a Franco-Dutch company.
“De La Rue have successfully produced the British passport for 10 years and are very disappointed not to be able to continue to do this, despite submitting a high quality, competitive bid,” the former manufacturers said.
Sutherland said he was surprised that such “an icon of British identity is to be manufactured in France,” calling both Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Office Secretary Amber Rudd to explain this new development to his workers.
The British passport began being issued with burgundy red covers in 1988, thus complying with EU recommendations based on homogeneity and plain convenience.
When the UK’s Home Office announced its decision to revert to blue, many considered the move a victory and a symbol of regained national sovereignty.
“The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty – symbolizing our citizenship of a proud, great nation,” May had said in a Twitter statement, adding, “That’s why we have announced that the iconic #bluepassport will return after we leave the European Union in 2019.”
However, few seemed to be aware the blue color was imposed by the League of Nations, a predecessor to the United Nations, in a bid to standardize official travel documents in the wake of World War One.
As soon as news broke out that De la Rue was no longer to manufacture the British passport, the company’s shares dropped over 5 percent in trading at London’s Stock Exchange.
Conservative lawmaker Priti Patel described the situation as a “national humiliation,” while Tom Brake of the Liberal Democrat Party, a centrist formation that wants the UK to remain in the EU, said the whole blue UK passport issue was a “farce.”
According to EU public tender contract legislation, the British Home Office must make its public tender offers open to all EU-based manufacturers.
A Home Office spokesperson said the bid was made in a “fair” manner to ensure the contract provided the best value for money for UK consumers.