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UK passport colour change invites ridicule

The Theresa May government announced on Friday that the colour of the British passport will change from burgundy to blue post-Brexit.

world Updated: Dec 27, 2017 16:38 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Image of the current UK passport.
Image of the current UK passport.(HT Photo)

It was meant to be a feel-good story for Britishers at the end of a year full of contortions over Brexit, but the announcement that the colour of the British passport will change from burgundy to the earlier blue has invited ridicule and worse from various quarters.

Billed as an expression of “independence and sovereignty”, the Theresa May government on Friday made the announcement that is to take effect from October 2019, assuming all formalities of Brexit will be completed by the March 29, 2019 deadline. However, European Union officials in Brussels, Labour leaders and even a close associate of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher have dismissed the exercise as a “Brexit PR stunt” and a “nostalgia stunt”.

European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said that there was no Brussels regulation stating that EU countries’ passports had to be a certain colour. “There is no EU legislation dictating passport colour. The UK could have had any passport colour it wanted and stay in the EU,” he said.

Charles Powell, foreign policy advisor to Thatcher — during whose tenure the passport colour was changed from blue to burgundy — described the elation as “nostalgia driven by ageing Eurosceptics”. He confirmed that the colour was changed to burgundy under Thatcher, but under no pressure from Brussels.

Mocking the pro-Brexit camp hailing the announcement, he remarked: “So long as they are content with symbols, rather than substance, I see no harm in letting them have their way. Perhaps we should go the whole hog and reintroduce ambassadorial dress uniforms, as well as bowler hats and stiff collars for senior civil servants.”

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said: “What utter nonsense. This belittles our country and your office.” Former party leader Ed Miliband added: “It is an expression of how mendacious, absurd and parochial we look to the world.”

There are already reports that after Brexit is completed, British citizens will not be able to use fast-track lanes at European airports and will have to apply for the EU travel information and authorisation system, which involves registering in advance and a payment.

The Guardian said in an editorial: “We have traded the shade of our passports for the guarantee of simple, visa-free travel and the right to live and work in the EU – not to mention the broader economic benefits of membership.

“Any national identity imperilled by the colour of its documents must be pretty feeble to begin with: all the more reason for politicians to focus on its real challenges, instead of fixating on symbolism or making cheap gestures. Only a fragile or foolish nation would judge a passport by its cover.”