Voices: Is travel and passport chaos the new normal for Global Britain?

·3-min read
The prospect of international travel seems to have lost little or most of the allure it held (PA)
The prospect of international travel seems to have lost little or most of the allure it held (PA)

Almost six years on from the EU membership referendum (doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?) and with Brexit supposedly gotten “done”, I’m not so sure about this “Global Britain“ thing.

It’s probably just as well we have all the fun of the platinum jubilee to keep us happily occupied in Britain for a few days, because getting out of the country is about as difficult as it has been for the past 70 years.

Even if you wanted to escape the forced jollity and manic excesses of “platty joobs”. I’m afraid all routes out of the country seem blocked by “travel chaos“ as the headlines always go. This time they seem about right.

In my case I am forbidden from leaving the country. For the past three months I have been waiting for a new passport, symbolising one of the most precious things in the world – British citizenship. With Her Britannic Majesty’s injunction to allow me travel without let or hindrance, and the newly restored international respect for a document without the words “European Union” on the front, I should be free to trot the globe.

Except that HM Passport Office is unable to issue one, and tells me that inquiring about it just makes matters worse, so don’t bother, and so I’m just left waiting, possibly forever. The reality of my own experience at least allowed me to spot a Boris Johnson lie (hardly rare, I know) at first hand, when I saw him in the House of Commons the other day state that: “To the best of my knowledge, everybody is getting their passport within four to six weeks.”

To those of us who are experienced Johnson watchers, the phrase “to the best of my knowledge” is code for "I’m about to lie but want a way out of admitting it if needs be”, and so indeed it was, as my 13 week wait attests.

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Even if I had a passport, the prospect of international travel seems to have lost little or most of the allure it held. Obviously, there’s the problems with airlines and tour forms cancelling bookings at zero notice, prompting panic in line and at the airports. So, dreaming of one day getting my passport, I considered driving and taking a ferry to France or Ireland. But there are queues and delays here too. I shudder to think what the sanitary arrangements on the roads around Dover must be like.

No doubt there are multiple reasons for this breakdown in civilised life, possibly including the after effects of the pandemic and “overbooking” by the travel companies (though I thought they always did that). However, the word “Brexit” does keep popping up, and it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that a nation that erects trade barriers with its closest neighbours will make movement of goods and people slower and more cumbersome. Certainly a blue British passport will guarantee you a longer wait at immigration at many European holiday destinations.

To borrow a phrase, this doesn’t feel very much like the Brexit we were promised and voted for, and I wonder whether the Schengen area isn’t such a bad idea after all. If we were in that – which we could join without being in the EU – we wouldn’t need passports at all, and the burden on the passport office would be greatly eased. Just a jubilee thought.

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