UK issues passports without ‘European Union’ on cover

Govt open to Brexit compromise with Opposition, says UK finance minister

7 April, 2019 12:00 AM printer

LONDON: Britain has begun issuing passports with the words “European Union” removed from the front cover—despite Brexit being delayed and its political leaders deadlocked over how to extricate the country from the bloc, reports AFP.

The interior ministry said Saturday that a longstanding decision to start introducing passports without reference to the EU had gone ahead from March 30, the day after the original date for Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May has delayed leaving the bloc after 46 years of membership amid stubborn opposition in parliament to the divorce deal she finalised with European leaders in November.

MPs have overwhelmingly rejected the agreement three times.

Ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday, she was forced to ask them for another extension, until June 30, to prevent Britain departing with no deal at the end of next week.

But with EU heads growing increasingly impatient at the political paralysis in Westminster, they could offer just a shorter postponement—or a longer period of up to a year.

The other 27 members must give unanimous backing to any extension.

May is trying to break the parliamentary gridlock by striking a compromise deal with the main Labour opposition.

Senior ministers have spent several days negotiating with its leaders, but there were signs Friday that talks were stalling after Labour complained of no “real change or compromise”.

British finance minister Philip Hammond nonetheless struck an optimistic tone at a meeting Saturday of European finance ministers in Bucharest, telling reporters there were “no red lines” in the ongoing discussions.

“I expect we will reach some form of agreement,” he predicted.

In an apt sign of the befuddling circumstances around Brexit, Britain’s interior ministry confirmed that some newly-issued passports now omit references to the EU atop the cover while others still bear the bloc’s name.

It said the discrepancy was due to an attempt to save public money and insisted both designs would be “equally valid for travel”.

“In order to use leftover stock and achieve best value for the taxpayer, passports that include the words ‘European Union’ will continue to be issued for a short period,” a spokeswoman added.

British passports have become ensnared in the country’s Brexit divisions after the government announced in 2017 it would return to traditional blue passports “to restore national identity”.

The travel documents had dark blue covers from 1921, but Britain switched to burgundy from 1988, in common with other passports in what was then the European Community.

Brexit backers are thrilled by the highly symbolic change, while those who support remaining in the bloc have mocked their excitement.

Last year it emerged that Franco-Dutch company Gemalto had won the contract to make the new blue passports, prompting fury from Brexit campaigners and more ridicule from Remainers that a British company was not chosen.

The new production contract is to begin in October 2019, with the passports currently being issued without reference to the EU on them still in the burgundy colour.

Whether Britain will have left the bloc by then is uncertain.

Many of May’s Conservative colleagues are vociferously opposed to her outreach to Labour, while hardline Brexiteers remain implaccably opposed to her deal.

Hammond, who backed Remain in Britain’s 2016 referendum and is seen as favouring as soft a Brexit as possible, urged his divided party to show flexibility.

“We should be open to listen to suggestions that others have made and some people in the Labour Party are making other suggestions,” he said.

Labour is pushing for a much closer post-Brexit alliance with the EU that includes participation in a customs union.

May has previously dismissed the idea because it bars Britain from striking its own trade deals with global giants such as China and the United States.

Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott said Saturday her team must compromise.

“The government perhaps has to show a little more flexibility than it seems to have done so far,” she told the BBC.

Meanwhile, British finance minister Philip Hammond said on Saturday the government had “no red lines” in talks with the main opposition party to break the deadlock in parliament over Brexit.

“Our approach to these discussions with Labour is that we have no red lines,” he told reporters at a meeting of European finance ministers in Bucharest.

“We are expecting to exchange more texts with the Labour Party today, so this is an ongoing process and I expect we will reach some form of agreement,” Hammond added.

Senior ministers are negotiating with Labour leaders in a bid to find a compromise to end months of political crisis and allow Britain to leave the European Union smoothly after 46 years of membership.

But after three days of discussions, Labour said Friday it was “disappointed” by the failure to offer “real change or compromise” to Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular Brexit divorce deal.

MPs have rejected her agreement finalised with European leaders last November three times, delaying Britain’s original March 29 exit date and throwing the process into chaos.

Ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday, May was forced to ask for another extension, until June 30, to prevent the country crashing out the bloc next Friday.

However with European leaders growing increasingly impatient at the paralysis in Westminster, they could offer just a shorter postponement—or a longer period of up to a year.

The other 27 EU nations must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension.

Hammond, who backed Remain in Britain’s 2016 referendum and is seen as favouring as soft a Brexit as possible, urged his divided Conservative colleagues to show flexibility.

“We should be open to listen to suggestions that others have made and some people in the Labour Party are making other suggestions,” he said.

Labour is pushing May to accept a much closer post-Brexit alliance with the EU that includes participation in a customs union.

The prime ministers has previously dismissed the idea because it bars Britain from striking its own trade deals with global giants such as China and the United States.

But after Brexit hardliners in her own party repeatedly refused to back her plan over fears it would keep the country too closely aligned with Europe, she last week turned to Labour—infuriating many Conservatives.

Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott said her party was engaged in the talks “in good faith”, but May’s team appear unwilling to compromise.

“There is concern that the government doesn’t want to alter the political declaration,” she told the BBC, referring to the part of May’s deal outlining the future relationship with the EU.

“The government perhaps has to show a little more flexibility than it seems to have done so far.”

 

 


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