Should Britain’s Post-Brexit Passports be Made by a French Firm?

Mattha Busby
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The company currently manufacturing British passports have been outbid for the post-Brexit production contract by a continental competitor.

Almost thirty years have passed since the current burgundy passport was imposed in 1988 by bureaucrats wishing to bring the UK in line with the rest of the European Union.

It makes us less British, some argue. We compensate by wearing replica football shirts, getting lion tattoos and generally ensuring everyone in our immediate vicinity knows we are unquestionably British.

Now, however, we are leaving the European Union and we are getting blue passports back, the erstwhile symbol of our great nation (that 88 other countries share).

It’s a great time to be British. The leaked Brexit impact forecasts estimate that every region will be worse off in every possible scenario and instances of hate crime have increased by 29% in the year since the historic vote.

A more pressing issue, however, is whether a French firm should be awarded the contract to manufacture our post-Brexit passports?

Theresa May. Photo by Arno Mikkor

The government today extended the bidding process after De La Rue, a UK company that lost the £490m contract to French-Dutch Gemalto in March, requested a longer “standstill period” after threatening to take the Home Office to court over the affair.

Undoubtedly, there is a certain logic – however misguided – to the argument that British passports, which are back to their quintessentially most British, should made in Britain.

We have just had a referendum where the majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union, after all.

“2019, which is when this contract will come into force, is the year of Brexit and when the British passport will become blue again, you know, very dark blue, but it will be manufactured in France,” says Martin Sutherland, CEO at De La Rue, the company founded in Guernsey in 1821 by Thomas de la Rue, who would go on to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, in an interview with the BBC.

“I think in a post-Brexit Britain, where, I mean, my company De La Rue is plying its trade around the world, we export passports to over 40 countries in the world, we’re the biggest and the best passport manufacturer globally, I just think it’s kind of surprising that the British government doesn’t support British industry.”

But the thing is that Gemalto are, in fact, going to be making the passports in the UK – in Fareham and Heywood in Lancashire – while the taxpayer is likely to save around £110m.

Photo by John O’Nolan

So what’s the problem? It’ll be made in Britain but the profits will go somewhere else; a bit like the Daily Mail, British books sold on Amazon and British tea (from India) sold in Starbucks.

But Brexit, for many Brexiteers, like Priti Patel who has branded the decision to hand the contract to a foreign firm as “perverse” and “disgraceful”, is about telling the EU to “sod off” and less about forcing British-based companies to pay their fair share.

Others, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, envision a “clean Brexit”, shutting ourselves off from our largest trading partner which, in practice, will likely see the institution of protectionist policies as we recede into our lonely island.

Meanwhile, Theresa May’s idea of a global, competitive Britain strides apace into the future.

Unfortunately, however, our current economic model dictates that if a foreign company can provide a service at a cheaper price, then our industries will have to become more efficient in order to remain competitive.

Luckily, for some people, the UK will not be obligated to open bidding processes to EU companies after Brexit.

Just be careful you don’t get caught on the other side of the Channel when the drawbridge comes up in March 2019.

 

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