Ministers were last night urged to stand up for Britain following a furious backlash over the decision to make post-Brexit blue passports overseas.
The UK firm set to lose the £490million contract threatened to take the Government to court unless it changes its mind.
MPs from across Parliament called on the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to intervene, after it was revealed a Franco-Dutch firm will be handed the lucrative deal from October 2019.
A Franco-Dutch firm has been awarded a £490m contract to print Britain’s next generation of blue passports, stock picture
As websites and phone-ins were deluged with protests over the news, Tory MP Andrew Rosindell demanded that Amber Rudd ‘put the interests of our country first’.
Matt Hancock, the Culture Secretary, raised hopes of a reversal early yesterday when he said the procurement process was ‘not fully complete’.
But the Home Office later defended its choice of foreign manufacturer Gemalto and said the decision would save about £120million over ten years – the equivalent of just £12million a year.
Officials have given De La Rue, the historic British firm that currently makes UK passports, just ten days to appeal.
Chief executive Martin Sutherland said it would seek a judicial review on the tendering process if it is unsuccessful in reversing the move.
He called for Theresa May to visit the firm’s Gateshead factory and explain to staff why the passport will be made in France.
Officials have given De La Rue, the historic British firm that currently makes UK passports (Gateshead headquarters pictured), just ten days to appeal
The decision sparked an astonishing wave of reaction yesterday, with 4,500 comments on the BBC news site alone. It came as:
- It was claimed the Home Secretary signed off the deal without knowing which firm had won the contract;
- A YouGov poll suggested half of people would prefer the passports to be made in Britain, regardless of cost;
- It emerged that Gemalto has been hit by a string of profit warnings and is being bought by a defence company quarter-owned by the French state.
EU competition rules state Governments should not favour domestic companies, which is why Britain opened up the tender to foreign firms.
But exemptions can be made on ‘national security’ grounds, and Germany, Spain, Italy and France all award contracts for their travel documents to domestic makers.
De La Rue, the world’s largest passport maker with a third of the market, claims it was not allowed to bid to print French passports.
Tory former Cabinet minister and Brexit supporter Priti Patel led the backlash against the Government’s decision, saying: ‘This is a big moment for Britain … the return of the iconic blue passport. Once again we need to look at how Government makes procurement decisions.
‘Ministers with responsibility for this should not have let it get this far … The national interest matters, and the protection of citizens’ data matters … as well as making sure we bang the drum for Britain.’
Mr Rosindell urged Miss Rudd to find a way to ‘ensure those jobs stay in Britain’.
The lucrative contract has been awarded to Gemalto, who have offices in Holland and France
‘Why is it that we allow a French-Dutch company to be able to take the contract away from our own De la Rue, which is based in the North of England?’ he told Sky News.
‘The Government need to review how this has happened … there are times when you have to put the national interest before European procurement rules and this is one of those occasions.’
Labour MP John Spellar called the decision ‘scandalous’, adding: ‘One of the reasons the British people voted Brexit is because it was so fed up with civil servants and ministers giving work to foreign companies,’ he said.
‘Look at police cars. The French police drive French cars and vans, the German police drive German cars and vans.
And yet in London you see the British police in Mercedes vans. No other country behaves like this.’
De La Rue boss Mr Sutherland said yesterday: ‘An icon of British identity is going to be manufactured in France.
‘I’m going to have to go and face those workers … explain to them why the British government thinks it’s a sensible decision … We have printed the passport for nine years without a hiccup … we have the best security systems in the world.’
Last year De La Rue, founded by London printer Thomas De La Rue in 1821, printed 17.3million passports for 40 countries. It also printed 7.1billion bank notes.
MPs from across Parliament called on Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured) to intervene, after it was revealed a Franco-Dutch firm will be handed the lucrative deal from October 2019
In its bid, the firm pledged to ensure around 99 per cent of British passports were produced in the UK. Currently, around 20 per cent of the 7million issued in Britain each year are made abroad.
Under the contract, virtually all passports will be manufactured overseas, including in Gemalto’s plant in Poland.
But the Home Office said the task of uploading sensitive personal information to the passports would take place at two new plants in Fareham, Hampshire, and Heywood, Greater Manchester.
A spokesman said Gemalto was ‘experienced and trusted’ and a proportion of passports had been made overseas since 2009 ‘with no security or operational concerns’.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘We are still in the process of running a fair and open competition to ensure the new contract delivers a high-quality product which offers the best value for money for the taxpayer.’
In the YouGov poll some 49 per cent said the blue passports should be produced by a UK company even if an overseas firm offers better prices or services. Some 29 per cent disagreed, while 22 per cent said they did not know.