If Brexiteers want free trade, then French-made UK passports are only the beginning

James Moore

In a recent Guardian interview John Cleese discussed writing the perfect farce, opining that to make it work “absurd situations have to be made believable”.

If the great comic had ever conceived of a situation as stark raving bonkers as the battle of Britain’s blue Brexit passport, I imagine it would have ended up in his bad ideas file, at least had he dreamed it up before the country lost its collective mind a couple of years ago.

For those who need a catch-up, a British company with a French name (De La Rue) has kicked up an almighty fuss because it has lost the contract to produce the new blue passports it wanted to print up in the heart of Brexitland (Gateshead). Instead, we are told, the work has been handed to a French company, well a Franco-Dutch company, with a French name that proposes export them to us from somewhere across the channel. At a juicy saving to the taxpayer, it should be noted.

Ooh la la!

Of course, it’s created a right royal sacre bleu, and given the members of the Tories’ crazy wing a chance to stomp their little feet and wave their little fists without polluting the River Thames by tipping dead fish into it like Nigel Farage.

The likes of Bill Crass, sorry, Cash, and Priti Patel have never needed much encouragement to angrily wave their fists in the air while crying “betrayal!”

In case there were any concerns on that score, however, De La Rue boss Martin Sutherland pitched up at the BBC’s Today Programme to give them a poke.

“Over the last few months we have heard ministers happy to come on 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,” he fulminated.

This, of course, would be the same Martin Sutherland whose company’s website declares it to be “the world’s largest manufacturer of passports, printing over 15 million books each year”. With an emphasis on “world’s”.

As well as British passports, De La Rue boasts of producing them for Malta, Cameroon and Sierra Leone. It supplies national identity documents to 25 countries, including Malta and Sierra Leone (again) along with Senegal and Trinidad and Tobago. Case studies highlight work it has done in Qatar, the Maldives, Kuwait, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Seychelles, Kenya, Haiti, Fiji, Kosovo, and Guyana.

It could just be me, but Sutherland does rather seem to want to have his cake and eat it. He’s only too happy to bid to print others’ passports, not to mention their ID cards, driving licences, banknotes, secure documents, and more besides, but he’s rather less keen on them coming in to bid for ours.

The Brexit crew have, of course, seized on the fact that the UK apparently had to offer up its symbol of “independence” to all comers under EU single market rules, which won’t apply to us when we’re out. No siree they bally well won’t!

Thing is, if we’re a “Global Britain” like Theresa May says we shall be, and an “agitator for free trade” like arch Brexiteer Boris Johnson claims he wants us to become, then we do rather have to accept others having carte blanche to bid for British Government contracts. And not just the French. It’ll hold true for everyone.

Those people we keep being told are “queuing up to sign trade deals” with us aren’t going to sign them if their firms can’t do that, and certainly not if our firms want to be able to bid for their contracts. Sutherland would likely insist on the latter. He wouldn’t be alone.

The sound and fury that accompanied the launch of the blue passport was farcical to start with – we would have been perfectly entitled to have them printed up in that colour under EU rules had we been so inclined. We could have had them in pink, yellow or green too.

However, this takes it to a whole new level. Just when you thought Britain had finally the scaled the mountain of daftness and reached peak stupidity, we’ve decided that no, we can go a little higher after all

It’s enough to make anyone still in possession of their sanity weep. But laughing at the absurdity of it all is probably the best way to go.

That’s what the rest of the world is doing.

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