The Government’s meek capitulation to EU procurement laws was exposed yesterday, and has understandably provoked a backlash from Brexiteers and others who have raised several concerns – not least about the security of the personal information of British citizens being passed to another country when we are outside of the EU in March 2019. Britain’s new blue passports were set to represent a return of British sovereignty, acting as a symbolic break from the political union within which we had been trapped for decades. It is therefore absurd that they are to be manufactured by Franco-Dutch company Gemalto. The current British contract holder, De La Rue, boasts an impeccable track record and are justifiably stunned by the loss of this lucrative contract.
However, putting to one side Prime Minister Theresa May’s wish for the new design to act as “an expression of our independence”, and the risk to hundreds of jobs in a Gateshead factory, this move also brings with it more fundamental threats to national security.
Several European nations have already found ways to circumnavigate EU rules and have their passports exempted from the usual tender process on account of ‘security’ concerns. But, yet again, UK Government ministers have prioritised obediently following the commands of European lawmakers ahead of protecting their country’s own interests. This time we understand the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, even accepted the application from Gemalto blind – as there was a sealed tender process, without looking into the historical security issues this company has had in recent years!
As it currently stands, the manufacture and transportation of these hugely significant documents takes place in an immensely secure production plant, with seamless communication links to UK officials and with a comfortingly sturdy level of oversight.
However, from 2019 this process will now be taking place outside the UK’s borders in Southern France – where our Government has no jurisdiction and the process is unable to receive an appropriate level of ministerial supervision – and we will also no longer be an EU Member State!
Grave concerns need to be raised as to how Gemalto could have feasibly offered such a low price, whilst already being in financial difficulty, and supposedly being able to guarantee a continuation of the high standards set by De La Rue – an internationally respected company. Given the sensitive and important nature of this line of work, emphasis should not be placed on simply getting the best price via a sealed-bidding procedure, but on a whole host of vastly more important criteria. Whether this be the increased likelihood of incredibly desirable British passports potentially going ‘missing’ during production and transportation; or the ability of the British Government to respond to potential strikes in the workforce – Gemalto is in France after all, with notorious French employment laws potentially causing huge delays to vital travel documents!
There is a strong case for these concerns as well, due to the fact Gemalto suffered several severe breaches of its database by both UK and US hackers in 2010 and 2011, with its customers’ personal information being targeted. If it were to secure the contract, the firm would be responsible for protecting the private information of millions of Britons!
It is vital Amber Rudd rectifies this horrific error of judgement and returns the production of this national icon to Britain.
Having also recently capitulated during the Transition Period, handing the EU numerous concessions on fishing rights and immigration, it is clear the Great British Public deserve a much greater level of service from our elected representatives. This includes, once we Get Britain Out of the EU, our newly sovereign passports being produced inside our own shores!
Robert Bates is a Research Executive at cross-party grassroots campaign Get Britain Out