That the contract to produce passports is up for review has people talking once again about bringing back old-fashioned dark blue passports, scrapped in 1988 and replaced by smaller, maroon passports.
There is some confusion on the issue, so here are a few clarifications:
We are not spending an extra £500m on blue passports. In 2019, the existing government contract, worth £500m, will come up for review. It will, again, cost £500m. It is revenue neutral. Even if we weren’t leaving the European Union, we would still need to pay £500m for a new passport contract, or the government would spend £500m on producing new passports in house. At that point we will be able to have passports that are either their current EU-recommended maroon or blue, fuschia, yellow neon or with “Elizabeth woz ere” scrawled on the front in Comic Sans if we so choose.
We could have done this before Brexit. The maroon-coloured passport is EU-recommended, not mandatory. Croatia has blue passports. Another clue is that we were members of the European Economic Community, the predecessor organisation to the EU, when we still had dark blue passports.
What cannot change is the size, not because of the EU, but because of modern passport readers in most European and American airports, including the United Kingdom, which make passports harder to forge.
There is actually a strong case for changing British passports after we leave. Passport colour allows border officials to triage. If you turn up at a passport queue for “EU/EEA” with a passport that is not maroon, you are probably at the wrong queue and need to try “rest of the world”, or will require additional forms of ID. As we are leaving the European Union and seeking to no longer be subject to the free movement of people, the movement rights of British people will change, as we will no longer be able to exercise our free movement rights. A new passport colour will help border officials.
No, it’s not clear to me why anyone cares one way or the other.