Please let us come back to our senses!

As per the Guardian, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell said the burgundy passport had been a source of national “humiliation”.[1]

This was posted in the Guardian on 2 April. Had it been the day before, I’d have put it down to an April Fool.

But what it does show is this: there are lots of people out there – MPs included who should know better – who haven’t the first idea of what the EU is and how it works and who are all too willing to turn their ignorance into media hyperbole.

Are we really willing to have policy made on the basis of that low level of debate?

British_biometric_passportWhen I heard this absurd statement about the burgundy passport being a ‘national humiliation’, I thought: I wonder how long the old blue passport has been in existence. How is it that for some their British identity is so bound up with the colour of their passport?

So it was interesting for me to note that the old blue passport
only came into existence in the Old Blue Passport1920s. And of course, prior to the UK joining the EU, far fewer people needed a passport because far fewer people regularly took holidays on the continent of Europe (or beyond for that matter). No, I’m not saying that this is an achievement of the EU. What I am saying is that international travel has become so much more accessible in the last 40 or so years that having a passport has become so much more important.

So a very large number of people who hold UK passports today will never have had an old blue passport.

The other thing that is very important to note is that of course, it wasn’t some faceless bureaucrat in Brussels who decided that we should all have the same passports and that they should all have the same colour. It took years for the European Union member states to agree on a common passport and on the colour for it. Why did they choose burgundy? I haven’t the first idea. I do remember the endless debates being reported and people saying how silly it was to spend so much time on something so trivial as the colour of a passport.

A European passport was first discussed at a summit of heads of state and government in 1974 – i.e. with the UK present and participating.

The delay in its implementation (it was issued by member states from 1985 onwards although not all of them used this format immediately – for example the UK began issuing them in 1988) was due to differences of opinion on the colour (yes, they too were being extraordinarily silly about this) and about the format and whether it should be machine readable or not.

Even after this agreement was reached, and if you look at the passports of different member states, the actual colours and design of the cover still vary.[2]

What is in place today is not a European passport. All passports within the EU are issued by the member states and are passports of the member states. All that the common format does is to allow citizens of member states to be identified as such quickly and easily at the border.

And yes, of course, when we have left the EU we will have to look at what format our passport should have. It can’t be in the EU common format. And anyway, our passports are redesigned every 5 years (if only marginally) for security reasons – i.e. to reduce the risk of counterfeiting. So yes, let’s have a debate about this by all means. Let’s talk about what is necessary and sensible. But the question of colour of the passport really isn’t top of list and really isn’t about ‘national identity’. Why not have future passports in the shape of a credit card so they fit into an average wallet? It could look a bit like our electronic driving licenses, couldn’t it? Or maybe there should be choice of colour depending on which town or country you’re from (just joking!).

1_unicorn on UK passportLet us not start talking about national humiliation about trivia. And if you look closely at both the images of the UK passports above, the thing they have in common is that they feature a unicorn. So that may be the important pointer to identify that we need to preserve.




[1] Accessed at: on 3 April 2017

[2] Accessed at: on 3 April 2017


About martinaweitsch

I'm interested in politics and rational political debate which isn't afraid of the facts or the complexities and contradictions inherent in most important issues.
This entry was posted in Constitutional Reform, Politics in context and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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