The first of the old-style dark blue British passports will go into circulation from early next month in a highly symbolic break with the EU.
The government announced on Saturday that the first of the new travel documents would be issued in March with a full rollout by the middle of the year, replacing the burgundy EU design adopted by the UK in 1988
The decision to revert to the old design was greeted with delight by prominent Brexit campaigners when it was announced in December 2017. But three months later, there was an outcry after it emerged that the government had awarded the contract for the new documents to Gemalto, a Paris-based security company which is now part of French defence contractor Thales, over UK-based incumbent De La Rue.
Commenting at the time as a backbencher, Priti Patel, the home secretary and a strong advocate of Brexit, described the decision to award the contract to a French company as “a national humiliation”.
On Saturday, Ms Patel said: “Leaving the European Union gave us a unique opportunity to restore our national identity and forge a new path in the world”, adding: “By returning to the iconic blue and gold design, the British passport will once again be entwined with our national identity and I cannot wait to travel on one.”
The Home Office said that the new documents would be “personalised” in the UK and a new back cover for the passports will carry a design featuring the floral emblems of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Holders of the existing EU version, which was adopted in 1988 after years of debate about what colour it should be, can continue to use it until it expires, the government said.
The latest version will include better security features, including a “hard-wearing, super-strength polycarbonate data page, which contains innovative technologies embedded into the document, to keep personal data secure,” the Home Office said.
Brexit supporting MPs welcomed the announcement. Conservative Ben Bradley said: “Obviously there are bigger issues to deal with than the colour of our passports, but we’re also a country that enjoys a bit of symbolism and ceremony too.
“Having our blue passports back is a visible sign that we’ve delivered, that we’re out of the EU and in charge of our own destiny. It might only be a new passport, but it feels pretty good.”
The blue passport issue has become closely associated in the eyes of some Remain voters with a nostalgia for the past which is at odds with the values of modern Britain.
Christine Jardine, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson, said: “This passport marks a reduction in the rights of British citizens. Our existing passports give us the freedom to live, work and study across Europe. No amount of Conservative spin can hide the fact that they’re robbing us of those rights.”