Friday, 23 March 2018

The great blue passport farce


Perhaps I am a very bad person, but I really couldn't care less where my passport is printed.

What's probably even worse is that I don't care what colour it is either. What I do care about is that it gets me past the passport control barriers wherever I happen to be with a minimum of fuss.

I'm one of those sad people who keep their old passports. In my desk drawer there are eight of them, going back more than thirty years. Three are dark blue, five are burgundy. All bear those magisterial words inside their front cover: 'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and Requires ... '

Civis Britannicus Sum. Whatever colour my passport is.

But please. Headlines suggesting profound national humiliation if our shiny new blue passports are made in France? Why is a mere symbol being elevated to such undeserved importance?  (In fact, it seems, the new passports might not be made in France, because Gemalto, the Franco-Dutch company that is reported to have been awarded the contract to print them, happens to have two plants in the UK.)

The Daily Mail was in full apoplexy mode on Friday morning: its question for 'Britain's ruling class' was 'Why DO you hate our country, its history, culture and the people's sense of identity?'  

This whole passport nonsense has become an absurd sideshow, a distraction from any serious debate about what kind of nation the UK wants to be post-Brexit. As no one bothers to point out any more, we could have had our beloved blue passports all along -- the switch to burgundy was a voluntary decision made independently by a UK government.  But hey, who cares about facts? So last century ...

Indignation is a highly selective emotion. I've just taken a look at the website of a well-known online retailer to see where Union flags are made these days. I'm sure some must still be made in the UK, but if you fancy a nice big one -- five feet by three feet -- for just £1.25, your best bet is to get it from a company called Zunyao, based in Dongguan, population seven million, in south-east China.

I must have missed the furious reaction from outraged nationalists at the idea that our iconic flag, symbol of all that is Great about Great Britain, is being made by -- gasp -- foreigners.

But it's not difficult to understand what's going on. Extricating the UK from the EU is turning into a never-ending nightmare, complex and confusing. It's so much easier to focus on the trivial -- our beloved passports made in France of all places! -- and direct all our anger at something we actually understand.

Economic nationalism is a funny thing, though. I've just taken a relative who was visiting from overseas to catch a train from London to Gatwick Airport, and I had to explain that she could choose from three different train companies which service the route, but that the tickets are not interchangeable.

And as if that isn't daft enough, the three companies -- Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express -- are all owned by the same parent company, Govia, which in turn is 35% owned by a French company, Keolis. Mon dieu, les Fran├žais sont partout!

Well, not quite partout. The bus which took us to the railway station was run by Arriva, which is owned by the German railway company Deutsche Bahn (in which, by the way, German taxpayers are the largest shareholders). Yet more foreigners.

The water in my taps flows courtesy of Thames Water, owned by a consortium made up of a Canadian pensions group, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the China Investment Corporation, and the Kuwait Investment Authority. The BT pension scheme also owns a bit of it.

So how, exactly, will our nation be humiliated if (repeat if) our passports are printed by foreigners? Did the Brexiteers really think that once we had broken free from Brussels-imposed tyranny, we would suddenly become self-sufficient in all essential goods and services?

For goodness sake, it's a passport, not the Crown jewels.

Please, people, can we be serious? Truly, this is politics as farce.

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