DEBUG: blog_post
Let’s just change the colour of the passport
06 Dec, 2017

As so often, “EU rules” turn out to be less than binding.


We could meet one of the key hopes of Leave voters – a return to dark blue passport covers - and still stay in the EU. As so often (anyone for bendy bananas?), “EU rules” turn out to be less than binding. Michael Romberg disentangles the lure of tradition and sets out the rules. 

What Leave voters want

According to a February 2017 survey by YouGov, 52% of Leave voters want dark blue passport covers brought back after Brexit, much the same proportion as want the return of hanging, and a bit ahead of those who want goods to be sold in Imperial measures and a return of corporal punishment in schools (more Leaver voters oppose than support this last proposal).

The Independent of 29 March 2017 put these findings into a bar chart (but note that it does not show whether a majority of Leave voters supported the proposal).

As is so often the case with British traditions, they are not actually that traditional. The British hard covered passport book that I am old enough to have used was introduced only in 1920 – before that most passports were single sheets of paper, though there had been a cardboard cover from 1915. Burgundy EU passports came in in 1989. So we have had 28 years of burgundy as against 68 years of blue.

Who actually sets the Rules

The UN International Civil Aviation Organization sets rules for machine-readable travel documents. One rule says that they must bend and not crease. That probably rules out a return to stiff cardboard passports - assuming we do not wish to be cut off from air travel.

The ICAO says nothing about the colour of the passport cover.

The EU’S Resolution

The EU does specify the preferred colour. A 1981 Resolution of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States of the European Communities says that passports should be “burgundy red”.

Resolutions are not binding. They set up political commitments or positions. They are part of a soft coordination process.

Nonetheless, 27 of 28 EU member states have adopted shades of burgundy red as their passport colour.

Croatia has stayed with its dark blue passport. According to some accounts that is because the Yugoslav passport used to be red and a return to that colour would feel unpleasant to some Croatians.

A modest proposal

To bring back hanging, corporal punishment in schools and Imperial measures we probably would have to leave the EU. Note that the abolition of hanging and the move to metrication predate our EU membership. And note also that none of these proposals commands a majority in the country.

But as with a number of the supposed benefits of Brexit, it is not necessary to Leave the EU in order to change the passport colour.

So let’s bin Brexit and just change the colour of the passport instead.

Sure, it would not be very communautaire if we went against the common position in the 1981 resolution. But it would annoy other member states less than Brexit. And do us less harm.