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Sean O’Grady: The old passport looked quite handsome
December 28, 2017
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I’m not sure if this counts as smug, elitist, fetishistic or just plain irrational but I do wonder whether we might all be better off having a “blue” passport again and forgetting all about Brexit, seeing as people obviously care far more about the symbols of sovereignty than the reality in any case.

Apparently no one in Europe or the UK insists on the British passport colour being burgundy, and I think the British could also get away with having the incendiary inscription “European Union” reduced to letters so small that they be hardly detected by the human eye of a Brazilian customs officer or passport control at Tokyo Niigata Airport, for example (as if they cared anyway).

As it happens I am quite looking forward to getting a proper passport back again, after all these years. The old one – definitely black, not blue – was a handsome document, the covers made from strong card, the stentorian stuff about “Her Britannic Majesty” requiring me to be allowed to travel without let or hindrance engraved on the first page, and a massive coat of arms on the front, with sweet little panels for your name, handwritten, and serial number.

It was big too, which helped stop you losing it, and it could be used as a makeshift umbrella if needed. It had a slightly romantic ethos of an age of pre-Ryanair travel, and the entry stamps in mine for Malawi or Estonia brought back happy personal memories, precisely dated.

I recall too, as others may not, the massive sense of disappointment when I finally had to have it replaced with the new burgundy model. It was indeed burgundy, flimsy, and resembled very strongly my Alliance and Leicester Building Society passbook (this, for younger readers, was something that was used to manually record your regular savings as you accumulated a deposit on a home, another quaint tradition that’s disappeared). Indeed, me mistakenly but proudly offering my savings passbook with its balance of £212.58 to an unimpressed Zambian border guard was a moment of personal and national humiliation.

So the current British passport is nothing to write home about, and I wonder why Margaret Thatcher, who became fussy about parliamentary sovereignty only after she’d left office, was so casual about ditching the old-style model when she was Prime Minister and just went along with the reform voluntarily. After all, she once placed a hanky over a model of a new British Airways tailfin design that replaced the Union Jack with international symbols such as Maori or Ndebele art.

Like so much about the EU we’re having such trouble with now, Thatcher was responsible – both as a formidable European integrationist with the 1986-92 project for the single market with dilution of national vetoes, and as a Eurosceptic with her subsequent denunciation of Europe and all its works when she became a born-again parliamentarian sovereignist.

I never knew though, until this controversy, that she and not the EU took my passport away, and my school milk and funding for a postgrad course I was thinking about doing. I’d like those back too if and when we leave the EU.

The Independent

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