Post Brexit: British Passports Will Go Back To Navy Blue

Dec 28, 2017
Originally published on December 28, 2017 8:15 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

In Britain, Brexit continues to consume politics and conversation. And the latest controversy seems like a weird one - the color of the British passport. As the U.K. gets ready to leave the EU in 2019, the government has decided to change the color of passports. They were EU Burgundy. They'll return to the old British navy blue. Brexiteers (ph) call this a win. They say Britain is seizing back control of the country from the EU. NPR's Frank Langfitt is with us from London. Hey, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So I honestly don't get it, why is the color of the passport such a big deal?

LANGFITT: You know what? And that's a fair question as to why you don't get it, but it does say a lot about what's going on politically in this country right now. The Brexiteers say it's a symbol of independence from the European Union and a way to reclaim British national identity. You know, as a member of the EU, the U.K. had to submit to EU law. And they argued that they really - how would you put it? - gave up a lot of their sovereignty to Brussels, which is home of the European Union. But these old passports for many, many decades, they were blue. And Brexiteer politician Nigel Farage, he was talking on LBC, which is a talk radio channel here in London last week. And here's kind of how - this is the kind of way he saw it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIGEL FARAGE: Going back to that sort of navy blue color, what it says is that normal service has been resumed. We're becoming a proper country again. That is what Brexit is going to bring us.

KING: Farage, of course, is a Brexiteer politician. How is this playing out among normal people, the public?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, Noel, like everything else about Brexit, it just divides people. The Sky News poll here recently showed that for older people who kind of grew up with the blue passports, they support it. Younger people don't care that much. They grew up inside the EU. Many of them travel to Europe. So there's the same generational divide that we saw 18 months ago with the Brexit vote. And like Brexit - I mean, actually like the U.S. election last year, Brexit has just continued - actually divided the country even more.

KING: So let's talk about the bigger picture. This goes beyond just passport colors, right?

LANGFITT: It does. And what it seems to be in a sense, some people would say that it's using nostalgia to try to distract people from, frankly, the failures of the Brexit process so far. You know, when the Brexiteers first pushed this and wanted to leave the EU, they promised that it was going to make the U.K. richer, that they were going to get an easy new trade deal with the EU and there would be money coming back from the EU. In fact, the exact opposite has happened.

This month, the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, said the British economy has actually suffered from Brexit while economies in the United States, of course, and in Europe have done quite well. And the U.K. actually had to beg the EU to start trade talks. Instead of getting money back, actually the U.K. is going to have to pay up to $50 billion as a divorce payment to get out. So this is a way to kind of rally people to some degree nationalistically at a time when Brexit's just not looking so good.

KING: And last question in just a few seconds. Was the burgundy passport a sign of subjugation to the EU?

LANGFITT: No, not at all. In fact, EU passports are burgundy, but there's no law that says you have to do that. And, in fact, the person who made that change to change the passport to burgundy was former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.