The decision to hand the contract for creating Brexit Britain’s new blue passports to a French firm has sparked outrage in the Leave camp.
Whilst Britain could have always printed blue passports under EU rules, the move back to a dark blue has been heralded by Brexit ultras like Jacob Rees-Mogg as proof that Britain was ready to trade with the world on its own terms.
The Brexiteers claim to want free trade deals around the world, but the government’s decision to award the passport contract to French firm Gemalto instead of the UK-based De La Rue in a standard tender procedure has caused nationalistic uproar.
The contract is believed to be worth around £490m, and Gemalto is estimated to have undercut De La Rue’s big by more than 10%. The French firm won the contract under standard tender rules, but nationalism trumps taxpayer value-for-money in the eyes of many Brexit supporters.
Theresa May is too weak to manage the hard-line Brexiteers within her cabinet, and De La Rue boss Martin Sutherland has pushed her into a corner by calling on her to explain the government’s decision to produce British passports in mainland Europe after Brexit. Playing up the patriotic rhetoric on the BBC Today programme on Thursday morning, Sutherland said: “I’d like to ask Theresa May or Amber Rudd to come to my factory and explain to our dedicated workforce why this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon.”
If the prime minister capitulates to the Brexiteers and transfers the contract to De La Rue, she will be saying that post-Brexit British companies will be propped up by the state despite offering uncompetitive bids for services. And if she holds the line and leaves the contract with the French firm, she will be called unpatriotic and accused of betraying the Brexit dream. As with all Brexit decisions, there are no good options and the loser is the British people.