Britain’s new blue passports – a reversion to the iconic passports issued before the UK conformed to EU standards – are to be made in France.
British firm De La Rue, which now produces the UK’s burgundy passports, has this week lost a bid for the contract to make the new blue passports to French-Dutch company Gemalto.
The move puts at least two hundred UK jobs at risk and raised the ire of politicians, trade unions and the public alike who highlighted the irony of jobs being slashed in the UK to manufacture the country’s own passports abroad.
The Home Office did not notify De La Rue of the decision before it was made public yesterday (March 22) – the firm’s workers would discover that their jobs may now be at risk from morning news reports.
The Home Office justified the decision by saying the preferred bidder will save the taxpayer £120m over the five year contract and added that EU procurement rules require an open bidding process which must allow bids from EU companies.
But Unite accused the government of “hiding behind EU procurement laws”. After all, France does not allow other countries to produce its passports on national security grounds—a reason for which the country can be exempted from EU procurement requirements.
Labour MP Liz Twist, whose constituency Blaydon covers the De La Rue factory in Gateshead where the passports are made, slammed the Home Office decision.
“At a time of heightened international security concerns, it is downright ludicrous to think that our new passports will be produced abroad,” she said. “After months of talk about the return to blue British passports, the irony of this decision isn’t lost on me or my constituents.”
Unite national officer Louisa Bull vowed that Unite would fight the decision.
“Theresa May and Amber Rudd need to explain to De La Rue workers why ‘taking back control’ means their jobs could be put at risk while the production of Britain’s new iconic passport is shipped overseas to France,” she said.
“It wouldn’t happen in France because of national security and it shouldn’t happen in the UK,” she added. “De La Rue is the UK’s leading security printer making bank notes as well as passports sustaining thousands of decent jobs in the UK.”
“Ministers need to reverse this decision and start supporting British business and UK workers through public procurement and an industrial strategy which is more than just soundbites.”
Since news of De La Rue losing its contract to produce passports emerged yesterday (March 22), Unite has sought meetings with DeLa Rue and the Home Office as a matter of urgency.
Unite, together with the Mirror and the GMB have also set up a petition which has received nearly 4,000 signatures in a matter of hours.
‘Not about Brexit’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the latest controversy is ‘not about Brexit’ nor about ‘red versus blue.’
“It’s about saving decent British jobs, plain and simple,” he said. “At least two hundred jobs are now at risk because the Tory government thinks it is best to ask a French-based company to make UK passport.
“The government didn’t even have the decency to inform the company. Workers learned of their fate when they turned on their radios yesterday morning,” McCluskey added. “Even for Theresa May’s calamity Conservatives, this one takes the biscuit.
The Unite general secretary highlighted that De La Rue had been producing passports for the last decade, and in that time “there has never been a hitch, delay or security breach.
“And they’ve recently won the contract to print bank notes for the Bank of England,” he added. “What is fit for the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street is surely fit for our citizens?
“Instead of taking back control, the government is doing things on the cheap,” McCluskey went on to say. “Workers in Gateshead, West Houghton and Bath will pay the price with their jobs – and we’ll all pick up the bill for lost taxes being paid in the UK. I can hear Monsieur Macron laughing all the way over the Channel as he counts the cents that will roll into his Treasury.
He urged Prime Minister Theresa May to reverse the decision.
“You can’t hide behind the EU’s skirts this time – this was your government’s decision alone,” McCluskey noted. “What was done in no 10 can be undone in No 10. So back Britain’s workers and make our passports truly something to be proud of.”
You can help with Unite’s joint campaign with the GMB and Daily Mirror by signing our petition calling on the Home Office to keep production of British passports in Britain.