LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday hailed the return of Britain’s classic blue passport as a benefit of leaving the EU, pleasing Brexit campaigners for whom it is a symbol of national sovereignty but attracting derision from many remainers.
The government said a version of the old passport, issued to Britons from 1920 to 1988, when it was replaced by the burgundy jacket of the European Union, will be reintroduced after the country leaves the bloc in March 2019.
“The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty - symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation,” May said on Twitter.
“That’s why we have announced that the iconic blue passport will return after we leave the European Union in 2019.”
During often bitter campaigning for the June 2016 referendum on whether to leave the EU, which Britain joined in 1973, some Brexit supporters seized on the colour of the passport as a symbol of the country’s lost independence.
Opponents meanwhile mocked their attachment to something superficial while arguing that Brexit would diminish Britain’s real standing in the world.
Former United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a leading supporter of Brexit, responded to Friday’s news by tweeting: “Happy Brexmas!”
“A return to British passports means we are becoming a proper country again,” he wrote. “We are getting our individuality and national identity back.”
But Anna Soubry, a lawmaker from May’s Conservative party who opposes Brexit, tweeted: “Stand by for street parties as blue passports return. Not sure they’ll make up for broken #Leave promise of extra £350m a week for (British public health service) NHS.”
A Brexit campaign slogan suggesting that Britain’s financial contributions to the EU could be diverted to the National Health Service has been credited with swinging voters towards “Leave”.
The new document, which will be issued from October 2019, will come with enhanced security features, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said, and will be introduced as old passports expire and at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
Speaking to the BBC, Lewis said even people who voted remain still had an attachment to the dark blue passport.
Responses to May’s tweet were overwhelmingly negative, however, with many Twitter issuers pointing out that Britain could have kept the old colour under EU rules.
Others bemoaned the fact that Britons would lose the right to live and work in 27 other EU countries as a result of Brexit.
“Wow this passport’s fancy. Must have some kickass features,” read one tweet accompanied by a picture of a smiling family collecting their new passports.
“How many countries do you have the right to work in on this bad boy?”
“Huh. Still, blue though...”
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary in Edinburgh; Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Catherine Evans