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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

New passport for post-Brexit Britain turns into French farce

UK manufacturer challenges prime minister to explain the decision to award contract to a French company

The contract to manufacture the UK's post-Brexit passports has been awarded to a Franco-Dutch company. Mal Langsdon / Reuters
The contract to manufacture the UK's post-Brexit passports has been awarded to a Franco-Dutch company. Mal Langsdon / Reuters

Three months after announcing the return of Britain’s blue passport in a burst of post-Brexit optimism, the UK government has awarded the contract to make them to a French company.

The British company making the UK’s burgundy passports for the last decade has been undercut by a French firm in the competition to manufacture the new one from October 2019, the company’s chief executive said on Thursday.

Martin Sutherland, the chief executive of De La Rue, invited Prime Minister Theresa May to his factory in the northeast of England to explain to his workers why it was a “sensible decision to offshore a British icon”.

Read more: Brexit to turn British passports blue

The contract award followed the government’s decision in December to change the colour of the passport from burgundy to blue in what was described by Mrs May as an expression of “independence and sovereignty”.

The announcement was greeted by pro-Brexit supporters as an important symbol – and derided as a pointless gesture by campaigners who had fought and lost the 2016 referendum to keep Britain in the 28-nation European Union.

A prominent pro-leave campaigner, Nigel Farage, said that by going back to the blue colour it showed that “normal service has been resumed and we can be a proper country again”.

Mr Sutherland – who said he received confirmation from Britain’s interior ministry about the decision – said he would appeal the decision.

“I’m going to have face those workers, look at the whites of their eyes and try to explain to them why the government thinks it’s a sensible decision to buy French passports and not British passports,” he told the BBC.

A government minister, Matt Hancock, opened the way for a potential appeal after saying that the procurement process had not been completed. It followed a report in the Daily Telegraph that the contract has been won by French-Dutch company Gemalto.

Mr Sutherland – who said his company supplied the passports of 40 nations – pointed out that he was barred from applying for the French passport contract. Only domestic suppliers could bid under French procurement rules, he said.

News of the contract award came as Mrs May headed to Brussels to meet EU leaders to seal a deal on the UK’s departure date and push for trade talks.

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