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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Superficial obsession with UK passport colour sums up Brexit

Like everybody else with even an ounce of commonsense I have been puzzled by all the fuss over the colour of the British passport. What concerns me is not how the document looks but what rights it gives me as a citizen travelling abroad.

If the new post-Brexit British passport means that I have to get a visa to travel to some countries, when I did not need to do so before, then it will not be serving its purpose. If it means that I have to queue longer to enter countries, when previously I was fast-tracked then it is not fit for purpose.

The new blue passports will come to symbolise our loss of status as a nation, our isolation in the world, and the tens of thousands of jobs that will be lost together with higher living costs, which Brexit will visit upon us once we have finally left the European Union.

The superficial obsession with passports exhibited by many Brexiteers and their media cheerleaders sums up Brexit. It is a selfish, illogical, backward-looking little-Englander pursuit that acts against the national interest and the interests of everybody in this country. It is racism and imperialism dressed up as nostalgia, vanity and ignorance masquerading as national pride.

And the irony of it all is that not only were the previous British passports black, not blue, but their colour and format were foisted upon is by the League of Nations. It was not a document over which the former imperial state could claim ownership.

As the Guardian explains, the EU never mandated burgundy passports: it simply produced a standard format that many member states chose to use for the sake of convenience:

'Passports also make an interesting case study on sovereignty, the concept so dear to Brexiters. Passports illustrate the limits of sovereignty in an interconnected world. As a sovereign state after Brexit, the UK will have the right to design passports in whatever way it chooses. But other states also have sovereignty: they have the sovereign right to decide which passports they accept for entry into their territory. The modern passport, since its introduction in the early 20th century, has always been a matter for negotiation between sovereign states. Transnational institutions and superpowers have often imposed requirements on supposedly sovereign states.

The Eurosceptic media used to complain about the size of British passports: the burgundy passports issued in the past few decades were smaller than the old blue ones. They have gone quiet about this recently, perhaps because they know that this isn’t something the UK can change after Brexit. Passport size, along with several other features, is mandated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the UN. Today’s passports are machine-readable, and an international standard is required so that all passports will fit the machines used in airports.

Most of the recent changes to British passports have been driven by the US rather than the EU. The US requires certain passport features for participation in its visa-waiver programme, which allows citizens of most developed countries to enter the US for business or recreation trips of up to 90 days without a visa. The US demands compliance with ICAO standards, but it also imposes more stringent photo requirements and biometric features.

The new US requirements have been imposed on the UK via the EU: the US informed the EU of its demands, and the EU then incorporated them into its own passport standards. But the UK would only be able to escape these requirements after Brexit by giving up visa-free travel to the US.'

As the paper goes onto explain, after Brexit we will still have to follow ICAO standards and US demands if our passports are to be recognised abroad. And, of course, we will still have to follow any new requirements that the EU may adopt, if we are to travel to our nearest neighbours.

They add that after Brexit it may be hard, if not impossible, to impose more stringent requirements on the ID cards that EU citizens use to travel to the UK, as the Home Office would like. And of course we will lose any influence we had over EU measures to improve ID card security, which have made considerable progress in the past few years.

In effect, the blue passport will become yet another misstep on the path to international irrelevance as we scramble from capital to capital in search of the elusive trade deals that Brexiteers believe can replace those we already have as part of the biggest free trade area in the World.
No trade agreements
Restricted mobility and job opportunities
No more innovation and SME development powered by talented immigrants
Homelessness. Recession. Tiny Little Britain.
But - hey - blue passports!

This ridiculous issue sums up the transatlantic "dumb and dumber" contest that Hard Brexiteers are having with pro-Trump Rebublicans. Thanks for another excellent article, Peter.
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