World News

Feeling Blue (and Feeling Good): UK Picks a Post-Brexit Passport Color

Posted December 22, 2017 3:00 p.m. EST

LONDON — Britain’s journey into its withdrawal from the European Union, known as “Brexit,” has been a little bumpy. Banking jobs are in peril, and doctors and nurses are heading back across the English Channel. Employers are struggling to find workers. Negotiations with the European Union on the British departure have been fractious.

On Friday, the British government found something to celebrate: The Home Office said that the color of the country’s passports would revert from burgundy, favored by most EU member states, to the blue that once marked British travel documents.

The new passports, as described by the Home Office, would be both practical and a source of pride. They are meant to “symbolize our national identity,” to say nothing of providing Britons with “one of the most secure travel documents in the world.”

Prime Minister Theresa May praised the return of the blue passports as an “expression of our independence.”

Unsurprisingly, Nigel Farage, the former leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party and a leading advocate of Brexit, endorsed the move.

The debate over Britain’s withdrawal continues to polarize the country — even now, nearly nine months after the government formally declared its intention to leave, there is no consensus on what Britain’s relationship with the European Union should look like.

But there is no doubt about the future color of the passports, and that has thrilled supporters of the withdrawal. With the stakes high and the bones of contention abundant, many felt the burgundy passports represented the country’s unnecessary subjugation at the hands of Brussels.

Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative Party lawmaker, said this spring that the current passport was a source of national “humiliation” and that a return to blue would be “a clear statement to the world that Britain is back.”

Brandon Lewis, the British immigration minister, told the BBC that he knew many people who backed a British withdrawal and that they still had an “attachment” to the blue passports.

But the burgundy passports were introduced in 1988, so many Britons have known no other color. For some, at least, the trade-offs associated with the switch left them feeling a little, well, blue.

Britain will start issuing the new passports in October 2019, the Home Office said, about seven months after the country is scheduled to leave the European Union.

As it turns out, however, the choice of color was always Britain’s to make, and it didn’t need a referendum to clear the path to return to the style that was first used in 1921.

Although EU regulations dictate certain elements of the passports — they must be biometric, for instance — the use of some shade of red was purely optional, part of an effort to promote a sense of unity across the bloc.

“What is commonly called an ‘EU passport’ is in fact a national passport established under the national laws of the member states and issued to their citizens,” the European Union’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told the European Parliament in 2015. “The current format of the EU passport contains common features on which member states have agreed in nonbinding resolutions, such as for example paper size, the burgundy-colored cover, similar typeface for name and the use of the words ‘European Union’ in the country’s official language on the cover.”

In other words, there was no barrier to blue.