‘No U-turn on passport decision’, says DUP MP

The old dark blue passport
The old dark blue passport

The decision to award a £490m printing contract for UK passports to a French company should not be reversed, a DUP MP has said.

It comes after British manufacturer De La Rue said the contract to manufacture the new post-Brexit blue passport - which many Leavers see as a symbol of the UK’s regained independence - is set to be awarded to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto.

There has been mounting pressure on Theresa May to overrule the Home Office, with pro-Brexit former cabinet minister Priti Patel labelling the decision to hand the new contract to a foreign firm as “disgraceful” and “perverse”.

But in a surprise move, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he was not calling for a U-turn on the controversial decision.

The Brexiteer told the News Letter that while he was “disappointed” with the Home Office decision, he added that it was important to ensure “best value for money”.

The Home Office has said Gemalto’s bid could save UK taxpayers between £100m-£120m.

Mr Campbell added: “I don’t think many people would say the British passport should be produced in the UK whatever the cost.

“This is not a clear cut issue. I would prefer that UK passports were produced and printed in the UK. But if there is a phenomenal saving by having them produced elsewhere then obviously you have to ask why you would waste public money.”

The East Londonderry MP said the government should examine why there was such a significant difference in the bids to secure the contract.

He added: “Government’s role is to create conditions for business to be competitive. That’s one reason why we are leaving the restrictive EU. A bigger question is why a British company was not competitive enough to win the contract?

“Being an outward looking trading nation means we do business with other countries.

“The focus however should be on creating the conditions where British companies can win these tender competitions because they are putting forward the best and most competitive bid.

“It is government’s job to create the conditions which allow them to do this.”

In the Commons on Monday, Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes insisted that the contract would go to whichever firm offered the best value for money.

She pointed out that no official announcement had been made about the contract, but added there was nothing wrong with producing passports overseas.

She said: “HM Passport Office has undertaken a rigorous, fair and open competition in accordance with UK law, and in line with EU and World Trade Organisation rules.

“This procurement has identified the supplier that best meets the needs of our passport service, keeping UK passport at forefront of travel document security while offering best value for money.”