The UK’s worst tabloids are running today on the Glorious Brexity News that the government is planning to spend £500 million on returning British passports to their former glory – changing them from the wicked EU’s suspiciously French-sounding burgundy to good traditional English blue/black.

The interesting thing about the £500m passport change story is not that it’s complete made-up bollocks, even though it most definitely is. The interesting thing is that it’s a story which would be an insane example of government waste if it were true, but which isn’t positioned as a beat-up.

The grain of truth in the story is that the UK redesigns its passports every five years, which is tendered out to secure printing companies (generally British printing company De La Rue wins the tender, because it’s good at its job, has been doing it for ever, and already has secure facilities in the UK it can use).

The last UK passport redesign was launched in 2015, so it’s time to start planning and tendering for the 2020 edition. This will ultimately involve the winner being paid £500m to produce about 25 million new passports over five years.

Someone has spotted that the contract has gone out and tried to connect it to the weird corpse-fucking imperial nostalgia that is, well, absolutely everything about Brexit. This would make sense, if there were such a thing as left-wing fake news tabloids.

£500m Brexit waste – four hospital cuts for the sake of purple passports!

But it feels odd for the Sun and the Express to run on the £500m line, rather than making the story into “we’ll make them blue/black next time round and it won’t cost you any extra money, it’ll be another great example of how Brexit will make everything brilliant and not cost you anything”.

It’s also worth noting that the £500m isn’t coming out of the government’s budget, because HM Passport Office is entirely funded by user fees. Again, you’d expect the pro-Brexit tabloids would make more of this fact, rather than implying it’ll cost the taxpayer money.

The Sun and the Express may be sewage, but they most certainly know their audience. This implies that they’ve discovered grumpy old Brexit sods would actually be happy if this were the ludicrous waste of money they’re spinning it as, rather than a contrived piece of fakenewsy shorehorning.

This fits in with a piece I read today by a Brexiter who admitted that the whole process will cost tremendous amounts of money and probably kill the NHS, but that it was worth it because [weird gibbering about freedom that I’m not crazy enough to be able to follow].

It’s an honest position, granted, and reflective of the UKIP-ier end of Leave voters. But I think it’s a struggle to claim that Leave would have got over the 50% mark if they’d admitted Brexit was an economically disastrous move that would fuck everything up, but worth it because FREEEEDOM!

Side digression 1: the most headdesk thing about the whole “we want our passports back” discussion is that there’s no EU requirement to adopt burgundy passports. It’s a voluntary guideline which member states are free to ignore. Croatia, for example, has retained its existing dark blue passports. It would have been completely possible and legal for David Cameron ahead of the Brexit referendum to say “we understand patriotic feelings yada yada yada, so whatever the result of the vote is, passports will be dark blue from 2020”.

Side digression 2: the £500m figure works out as about £20 per passport, assuming the winner will print about 25m passports over the five-year period (that’s around half the number of UK passports currently in circulation, which generally have 10 years’ validity). That’s £20 per passport. Which given that renewal costs you £72.50, suggests HM Passport Office are taking the piss somewhat on fees.

Image: Things Brexiters hate. By Christopher Ellison / CC-BY 2.0

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