Brexit fever provokes a colorful and pointless controversy over U.K. passports

Britain’s Tory government, stumbling from mess to muddle as it tries to create some coherent policy for leaving the European Union, has triumphantly announced that all our passports issued after 2019 will be blue, as they were before the 1980s.

Currently a British passport is colored a very un-British burgundy. Even the color’s name sounds suspiciously foreign, notwithstanding that Britons slurp down many liters, or rather gallons, of the stuff each year. Worse, the detested words European Union appear at the top of the current passport’s front cover, above the words “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”


The government’s announcement was expressed in fluent populist, claiming that the restoration of the blue design will “restore national identity” and offering the British public yet another small-minded gesture of hostility to former mates in the European community.

Brexit supporters are proclaiming the return to the blue passport design a major victory.

Brexit supporters are proclaiming the return to the blue design a major victory. Some anti-European members of Parliament had declared the use of burgundy a “national humiliation,” suggesting the passport color scheme symbolized the United Kingdom’s submersion into a European identity that, in their worldview, Brits did not want.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has hailed this bold declaration of the a post-Brexit “sovereignty and independence,” but Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the passport recoloring as “insular, inward looking, nonsense.”

In one poll early in 2017, the re-blued passport was what 52 percent of Leave voters wanted at the moment of Brexit, just behind the top priority—the return of the death penalty—and just four points ahead of selling goods in pounds and ounces, whatever they are.

Nicola Sturgeon described the passport recoloring as “insular, inward looking, nonsense.”

The impression that Brexit populists wanted to create was of a plucky British government determined, in the spirit of Churchill or Wellington or maybe Celtic warrior chieftess Boadicea, to stand up to the combined might of the appalling Europeans. We were to rejoice in this splendid news, rather than worry about horrific rises in child poverty and homelessness under the policies of this government. Voters are apparently expected to set aside the fact that a British passport of whatever color will, after March 2019, no longer allow unfettered travel to or work in 26 nearby states. It will, however, be blue.

Those Europeans will see at last that they cannot push Britain around anymore. Except in this matter they never did.

It has emerged that there was never any obligation on the British, or any other E.U. member state, to adopt a uniform passport design. There is no Brussels regulation dictating passport color. The European Union has never had that power; nor, as far as can be ascertained, did it ever seek that authority.

A predecessor body, the European Economic Community, did, in the early 1980s, attempt to harmonize travel documents to ease movement and transport. But the U.K. government could have ignored the nonbinding resolution passed by the European Council; there was no coercion. The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, happily pointed out that Britain was always free to choose a blue passport, as Croatia did, while remaining a member of the union. This means, unhappily for the Brexiteers, that Britons did not need Brexit in order to change their passports.

Nonetheless, apparently not to be thwarted in their determination to be outraged, some of the more rabid anti-European Tories pounced on an announcement that the contract for a passport redesign will be due for renewal before the projected Brexit date of March 2019. It seems British passports are redesigned every five years for security reasons. This means that the tendering process must adhere to existing E.U. rules, and, according to the current contractor for passport printing, that means the passports in question could be produced abroad!

Widely cited on British media was comedy writer Simon Blackwell, suggesting, “Why do we need any color passport? We should just be able to shout, ‘British! Less of your nonsense!’ and stroll straight through.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Sandi Sinor
9 months 1 week ago

Maybe it's part of Mrs. May's grand strategy to wrangle some favorable economic deals with the US. Instead of continuing to use the EU's color, because of the impending bitter divorce (which will cause, as is the case in most divorces, some economic hardship) , British passports will return to blue, which also happens to be the color of US passports.

Is this a small part of a strategy that is supposed to reinforce the "special relationship" that is presumed to exist between the "cousins"? A relationship she is turning to in order to help mitigate the self-inflicted damage that will be done by the divorce? Can the color of a passport accomplish so much?


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