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UK passport row intensifies after offshoring decision

Friday, March 23, 2018

The UK government has come under fire after the announcement that new post-Brexit British passports are to be made in France by Franco-Dutch printing firm Gemalto. The decision to send the work offshore, taken in accordance with EU procurement rules, has been lambasted in various media channels by pro-Leave commentators including former cabinet minister Priti Patel, who described it as “disgraceful”, and is being appealed by the incumbent supplier De La Rue, which immediately issued a profit warning following the announcement.

However, the Home Office said on Wednesday that the new contract will save taxpayers in the region of £100m-£120m. A spokesperson said: “The preferred bidder has been selected following a rigorous, fair and open competition and all bidders were notified of the outcome last night. The chosen company demonstrated that they will be best able to meet the needs of our passport service with a high quality and secure product at the best value for money for our customers and the taxpayer. It’s been the case since 2009 that we do not require passports to be manufactured in the UK. A proportion of passports have been made overseas since then with up to 20 percent of blank passport books currently produced in Europe with no security or operational concerns.”

De La Rue CEO Martin Sutherland expressed anger at the decision to the BBC on Thursday: “Over the last few months we have heard ministers happy to come on the media and talk about the new blue passport and the fact that it is an icon of British identity. But now this icon of British identity is going to be manufactured in France…I’d like to ask Theresa May or Amber Rudd to come to my factory and explain to our dedicated workforce why this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon.”

The news that new UK passports would revert to a traditional dark blue colour was greeted with enthusiasm by many Britons who believe it represents a symbolic break with the past after 2016’s Brexit vote; since 1988 British passports have been burgundy in line with EU norms. Anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage described the decision as “the first real, tangible victory” since the referendum. Others, however, have taken a rather different view: entrepreneur James Caan tweeted that “a country that would spend £500m to change the colour of a passport while children sleep on the streets is a country whose priorities are wholly out of whack”.

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