Standing amidst the joyous people of Seville on a hot and sunny February 28th, I was pleased to join another crowd elated in celebration of an historic referendum result. The Sevillanos were dressed in their finery, waving green and white flags to celebrate ‘the Day of Andalusia’. The road along the river was closed for a procession and TV crews littered the main drag. This day contained extra significance, being forty years since the referendum in which the Andalusians voted to make their region an autonomous community of Spain.
For four decades the people of Seville have gathered on this day to hold street parties and processions. Admittedly the result of their referendum was rather one sided, with 94.2% of votes cast in support of the proposal. But it was clear the populous were intent on marking what they saw as a huge step forward for their region. One might even describe this as ‘sunlit uplands’. The symbolic flags and symbols of Andalusia were out in abundance.
Landing back at Gatwick airport a few days later, the contrasting cold and blustery weather provided a suitable metaphor for the British reaction to our own independence decision. Storm Jorge named, aptly, by the Spanish Meteorological Office, was blowing a hooley. It had been disappointing, but probably no surprise, the Guardian were one of the first media outlets to print their derision at the symbolic emblem of Britain’s referendum result – the re-introduction of the new blue passport. In an article published on December 22nd 2017, the paper made great efforts to highlight how the passport was not a British invention but was imposed on us “from abroad” (their words, not mine).
Three years later and the Guardian continue to beat the same drum. They now profess “there will be loud complaints…if travel to our favourite holiday destinations in France and Spain becomes more difficult”. The availability of luxury holidays appears to be something the London-centric bubble was scared of losing the most having left the European Union.
Now the blue passports have begun to be issued, many commentators have raised their heads again, complaining about the venue of its manufacture. Lord Adonis recently wrote in the New European “It won’t be long before nostalgia for the burgundy passports becomes near universal”. Setting aside whether new passports will allow as much freedom of European travel in a new blue variant compared to the old burgundy version, many criticise where the UK Government has chosen to produce the document rather than casting their eyes globally.
For nearly four years Brexiteers have been accused of being ‘inward looking little Englanders’. Yet as soon as the £490 million contract to produce the new passports was tendered and a French firm, Gemalto, won the opportunity to produce them, it was these same detractors who were first in the media to express outrage. Not to mention the new printing location being in Poland. They demanded to know why the passports would not be made in the UK. The Home Office explained the decision would save taxpayers £120 million over the five years of the contract but inevitably this fell on deaf ears.
More importantly those critics have ignored the main issue here – the UK will be able finally to offer countries the ability to tender for major contracts. This was something which simply could not happen as a member of the EU. Matt Hancock, speaking back in March 2018 as Culture Secretary, highlighted EU regulations on procurement. He stated, “There is an irony which is these rules are European rules and we are going to be leaving the EU and then we may be able to set our own procurement rules.”
The whole point of Brexit is surely the UK government can decide what the procurement laws should be, which contracts can be tendered and how the British taxpayer will get value for money? Former campaigners for Remain attempted to focus their referendum message on economics. Now this no longer suits them, they are the first to espouse nationalistic tendencies with no self-awareness at all of how ludicrous their volte face appears.
Indeed Edward Macmillan-Scott, a former MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament claimed in February 2020 the new blue passport would be “seen as a symbol…that is isolationist, ignorant and self-destructive”. The Unite union described the awarding of the passport contract to a French firm as “short sighted and blinkered” and said “the printing of passports…should be done in the home country”. Many Remain supporting media platforms tried even to lay the blame for 250 job cuts by De La Rue (the company who previously produced the passport) on the decision to tender the contract elsewhere. De La Rue insisted the job cuts were in fact part of an ongoing restructuring process. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
With Brexit now a reality, it may appear a stretch to compare our referendum with the one held in Andalusia in 1980. But if this country is going to come together it must end the navel gazing and criticism of symbols such as the blue passport. There is a wider world out there. Just as the Andalusians celebrate their own form of self-determination, so we must learn to embrace the opportunities leaving the European Union will bring. The sunlit uplands proved a turning point for Andalusia and cause for celebration. So they must also be for us.
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