The furore that has greeted the news that the contract for the new British Blue Passports has been awarded to a French company – Gemalto – has exposed yet again how threadbare and befuddled the Brexiteers’ arguments are .
Foolishly and unnecessarily the British Blue Passport has been elevated to being a symbol of Global Britain and taking back control . A Global Britain free to strike trade deals , for example , in two of the few practical details to emerge from Dr. Fox , to sell flip flops to the Italians and Scotch Whisky to India .
Would British Blue and an End to Ever Closer Union Have Won It?
Having seen the zeal with which Nigel Farage brandished his old passport and the frenzied excitement which greeted the announcement of its return I am left wondering why David Cameron did not come back from his renegotiation proclaiming that he had won Britain’s exclusion from ever closer union (as he had ) and the return of the British Blue Passport . Might he have achieved a different outcome in the Referendum ?
Emotion Trumps Rationality
Certainly it seems all the evidence is that the result of the Referendum turned on emotion rather than fact . On the basis of Tim Shipman’s account ‘All Out War’ the Leavers owe a debt of gratitude to Dominic Cummings for fastening upon ‘Take Back Control‘ ( and the Red Bus Lie) . The original idea was ‘ Go Global‘ .Cummings describes this as :”a firm favourite for many years among a subset of MPs and Farage’s inner circle (Leave.EU adopted this as its first slogan) and a total loser with the public.”(Spectator Coffee House )
It only takes a nanosecond to recognise that “take back control” has an emotional cut through which is totally absent from “go global”
Andrew Cooper put the challenge for Remain like this: fighting a simple lie with a complex truth.
Experience suggests that a complex truth will always come second.
Map of the Empire
Reports that a map of the British Empire at its height hangs upon the Brexit Secretary’s wall come into the category of worrying, if true. Unfortunately it seems all too plausible in illuminating the mindset of the Brexiteers fixated on a world long gone; indeed one which disappeared long before the demise of the British Blue passport.
Forging an Imaginative New Trade Policy
Dr Fox’s prognostications about an imaginative new trade policy seem to stem from the same mindset.
To our collective good fortune a vast stock of helpful material like this is available from the archives of the Empire Marketing Board. Given that so far Dr Fox’s pronouncements on Trade Policy have been limited to repeating stratospherically large numbers, and huge increases, generally projections, from a minuscule base there is a demonstrable need for some grounded thinking. It would be infinitely preferable if it were sustainably based on an understanding of the current global strategic context .However that is too much to hope for at present. So working from where Dr Fox and colleagues currently are in their thinking the materials of the Empire Marketing Board have much to commend them.
Of course Going Global has reemerged as Global Britain .
Leaving aside the view of the architect of the Vote Leave campaign, Dominic Cummings, that this is an empty phrase which has no resonance with the British public, what does it mean to its proponents?
British Blue Furore
This is where the furore over the award of the contract for the new British Blue passport becomes so puzzling. The proponents of Brexit are advocates of Global Britain. Global Britain is seen as being a significant force in the world in favour of free trade. It has been a commonplace in the debate on the terms on which we leave the European Union for Brexiteers to trumpet their belief in Clean Brexit and in their eyes the relative desirability of leaving without a deal and operating on world trade organisation rules.
So how is it that advocacy for leaving the restrictions of the European Union and operating on free trade principles is reconciled with protectionism for a British firm which tenders of price of, reportedly, £120 million more Gemalto?
Priti Patel the former International Development Secretary , never slow to develop her own career , has described the award of the contract to Gemalto at a price of £490 million as a “national humiliation”. She went on to say it was “a disgraceful decision” and “perverse”, according to the Sun. She has not provided any elucidation as to where the perversity lies in accepting a bid of £490 million rather than De La Rue’s bid of £610 million . The margin of additional cost , to be met from public funds would be nearly 25% . In any other debate a decision to award a contract at such a substantial additional cost would lead to a stampede of politicians to get in front of the cameras to announce they were calling the civil servants and ministers responsible to a select committee .
I would reject the notion that there is any national humiliation involved in a procurement exercise which results in government achieving the delivery of a required service at a competitive price. If there is any aspect of humiliation in this at all it is the issue of why a British firm’s bid is 25% higher than a european competitor
I cannot envisage any future whether within the European Union or outside it where a regulatory framework to ensure fair and free competition does not exist. Sir Bill Cash, doyen of Brexiteers , maintains what he wishes to see in the matter of the British blue passport is free and fair competition but the contract should go to British firm . The one is at odds with the other . The proposition to protect on nationalistic grounds is not compatible with free and fair trade .There is a worryingly familiar pattern here. The Brexiteers ordain an outcome which contains inherent contradictions . It is reminiscent of the Brexiteers reliance on magical thinking to resolve the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Anyone who seeks to intrude reality into the debate is derided as an obstructionist seeking to thwart the will of the people.
The Ultimate Fallacy
The ultimate fallacy in this furore about the British Blue passport is the notion that we ever needed to leave the European Union in order to have a blue passport. It was always within our power to have one if that is what we as a country wanted. Instead it has been transmuted into a symbol of taking back control – but we have had control all along . Except in the minds of the obsessives who are frantically trying to hold on to a decision which represents a singular act of national self harm .
Is It All Worth It ?
The answer to the the question posed by Kerstin Leitel of Handelsblatt to Mrs May at the Mansion House ‘ Is it all worth it ?’ is abundantly clear .