Britain's passport blues reveal Brexit for what it is — a crushing defeat for the UK
When the empirical evidence isn't on your side, you have to settle for imperial evidence.
Since Britain's landmark decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, Brexiters haven't had all that many victories to gloat about.
Even recently, between Brexit Secretary David Davis' admissions that the UK government has no idea how leaving the EU will affect any of Britain's major industries and the €50 billion divorce bill the UK must pay to the EU, celebrations relating to Britain "reclaiming her sovereignty" have been forcibly muted.
But the tide turned on Friday morning, when Theresa May's government puffed out its chest and proudly announced that the UK would finally cast off the crushing yoke of EU mandates and replace their current burgundy passport with the old blue one that has been decommissioned since 1988.
It was an announcement met with nothing short of feverish joy.
It made the front page of The Sun, who wrote "Brits will get their iconic dark blue passports back after Brexit, ministers announce today — in a stunning campaign victory for The Sun." And after all, isn't that what Brexit was all about? Stunning victories for The Sun, a newspaper owned by Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch?
The Prime Minister's tweet about the decision struck a similar tone, as she declared that "The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty – symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation. That's why we have announced that the iconic #bluepassport will return after we leave the European Union in 2019."
It has been treated as May's most significant announcement since she conceded two weeks ago that Britain would, in fact, not be leaving the single market or the customs union as had been promised by Leave campaigners. Or perhaps it was her most significant announcement since she accepted that UK would not be able to increase funding for the NHS by £350 million per week after Brexit. Or perhaps it was her most significant announcement since she called a snap election, and saw her party decimated by Jeremy Corbyn, and left May's majority in the hands of the DUP.
As far as cheering on the blue passports goes, it's somewhere between when San Marino wildly celebrate scoring in a game they've lost 4-1 and David Brent and Chris Finch tossing a kettle over a pub and breathlessly insisting, "That's the real quiz! That's the real quiz!"
But even this "victory" is built on a lie.
Crucially, the EU does not force its constituent members to issue burgundy passports. The burgundy red colour was specified in a decades-old agreement that is demonstratively non-binding — Croatia, which has been a member of the EU since 2013, issues its citizens with dark blue passports and has openly said that they will not be making any design changes, nor are they expected to by the EU.
This much was confirmed early on Saturday morning by Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit Coordinator for the European Parliament, when he tweeted "There is no EU legislation dictating passport colour. The UK could have had any passport colour it wanted and stayed in the EU."
Verhofstadt, proving himself to be such an adept troll that one wonders if he's honed his skill for years with a secret account on Xbox Live or Reddit, even suggested that introducing a blue passport isn't even out of the realms of possibility for the EU.
If we had known in advance that blue was so important to the UK, we could simply have replaced our passports by this one 😊 pic.twitter.com/fnUiLowyq7
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 23, 2017
"We've had enough of experts," was the now-infamous refrain from Tory MP Michael Gove throughout out the Leave campaign. If only experts had been afforded the attention they've earned, Britons would have known that the EU was in no way a barrier to the reinstatement of their beloved blue passports. Maybe they'd have known that putting restrictions on EU citizens entering the UK would make their own passports far less useful for travelling throughout the Schengen Zone (goodbye EU directives, hello queueing at the airport).
Perhaps if they'd had a few experts on TV talking about Northern Ireland they'd have had some understanding that the need to avoid a hard border next door would prove an almighty obstacle to negotiating any kind of workable trade deal with the EU.
Perhaps if they'd had a few experts on board then they would have commissioned a few economic impact reports on how Brexit will affect British car manufacturers, farmers and business-owners.
Perhaps if they'd listened to the experts they'd have aimed their big Union Jack blunderbuss anywhere besides squarely at their own feet.
There is a school of thought that argues Britons are celebrating the return to a blue passport so wildly because Brexit was all about history, and sovereignty, and symbols. That it was never about smart economic choices or the NHS — they just wanted to bump the EU's shoulder and spill their pint and say "We're English and we can do what we want."
And to some extent, that's true. But the fact remains that Theresa May, Nigel Farage, The Sun, Leavers in general have to celebrate the blue passport. They've had nothing else to celebrate since June 2016.