The Home Office has confirmed it will spend almost £500m redesigning passports for British citizens once the UK has left the European Union, paving the way for a possible return to the old dark-blue style.
Since the referendum last June, some pro-Brexit MPs and campaign groups have called for the return of blue passports to replace the current burgundy ones carried by all EU citizens.
The Home Office has invited businesses to apply for the £490m redesign project, with the new passports set to come into existence in 2019 – although it stressed this is because the current contract is ending, rather than because of the exit process.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are launching the procurement process now to ensure there is sufficient time to produce and design UK passports from 2019 when the current contract ends.
“The timing of any potential changes to the passport after the UK has left the EU has not been set.”
But this has not stopped Brexiteers from celebrating the anticipated return of the blue passports, which were introduced in 1920 and replaced with the machine-readable dark red design in 1988. Those who championed the return of blue passports include actress Liz Hurley, who called the old design “glamorous and exciting”.
In 1981 Brussels decided all member states should have a European passport within four years, but the UK held out for seven.
There was an outcry from some in the UK when the EU tried to have the phrase “Her Britannic majesty” removed from British passports, and another howl of protest in 2000 when Brussels attempted to introduce the 12-star European instead of the Queen’s crest.
The Home Office stressed that Brits will only have to pay for a new passport when their old one expires, regardless of whether or not the UK has left the EU by then.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chairman of the Flags and Heraldry Committee, was among the MPs who called for the return of the blue passports.
“It’s a matter of identity. Having the pink European passports has been a source of humiliation. It merged us into one European identity, which isn’t what we are.
“The old dark blue design was a distinct, clear and bold statement of what it means to be British, which is just what our citizens need as they travel abroad after Brexit.”
But many mocked the idea that the burgundy passports made them feel “humiliated”, including Labour MP Gavin Shuker who said on Twitter: “Customer reports pink (sic) colour infecting passport: remove and replace.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said of Mr Rosindell's comments: "The real source of humiliation is a Government worrying about the colour of our passports while a social care and NHS crisis rages."
Many pro-Remain MPs have suggested the importance placed by Brexiteers on the symbolic value of the blue passports shows they have their priorities wrong as the UK begins the arduous process of its divorce from the EU.
Labour MP David Lammy, who voted against triggering Article 50, said on Twitter: “Schools in Tottenham are facing £20m cuts between now and 2020. Would much prefer funding our schools instead of blue passports tbh.”
But some of the handful of pro-Brexit Labour MPs have come out in favour of the blue passports, including Birkenhead MP Frank Field, who said their return would help cement the UK’s identity after Brexit.
Mr Field said: “It’s all about establishing our identity as an independent country. It doesn’t mean we are cutting ourselves off from the rest of world, but that we are different.”
The firm which wins the decade-long contract will produce six million passports a year.
UK passports, which currently cost £72.50 for adults and £46 for children, are made by private security firm De La Rue, which also designs and prints UK banknotes.
Its ten year contract is due to expire in 2019, although the firm is expected to bid to produce the new passports.
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