Unite the union has teamed up with the Daily Mirror newspaper to launch its campaign calling for the production of UK passports to remain in the UK.
A petition, ‘We demand the new blue UK passport is made in Britain to support UK jobs’ has been set up on the TUC’s Going To Work website.
The petition had nearly 4,000 signatures at the time of writing.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey urged Prime Minister Theresa May to “reverse this disastrous decision” and praised De La Rue’s performance in producing the passports for the past decade.
He said: “Let’s get one thing straight. This is not about Brexit. It’s not about red versus blue. It’s about saving decent British jobs, plain and simple.
“At least 200 jobs are now at risk because the Tory government thinks it is best to ask a French-based company to make UK passports. The government didn’t even have the decency to inform the company. Workers learned of their fate when they turned on their radios yesterday morning,” McCluskey said.
“Instead of taking back control, the government is doing things on the cheap. Workers in Gateshead, West Houghton and Bath will pay the price with their jobs – and we’ll all pick up the bill for last taxes being paid in the UK. I can hear Monsieur Macron laughing all the way over the Channel as he counts the cents that will roll into his Treasury.”
However, in its editorial comment today, the Mirror also called into question De La Rue’s pricing strategy after the security printer pricing was apparently so substantially undercut by preferred bidder Gemalto.
“British passports, whatever their colour, should be produced here, so the printing contract crossing the Channel is hugely controversial, particularly when it puts at risk up to 200 jobs in the North East,” the newspaper said.
“The boss of the company making the current documents, De La Rue, has big questions to answer if it is right it intended to bill the Government as much as £120m more than its rival for the service.”
The Home Office has stated that the Gemalto proposal would save taxpayers between £100m-£120m over the life of the ten year contract, if the passport volumes produced are as anticipated.
Gemalto itself has remained tight-lipped. As spokesperson told PrintWeek: “Gemalto is aware of reports regarding the contract to produce the new UK passport. As the process is still ongoing and the terms of engagement are confidential, we cannot make any further comment on it at this stage.”
Some commentators said the decision merely reflected the free trade rules that De La Rue itself also benefits from. ITV political editor Robert Peston said: "To have gone with the much higher British bid, just because it is notionally British, would have been to resort to the kind of protectionism and de facto state aid that most Tories would argue has been a historic failure."
Yesterday Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked that Home Secretary Amber Rudd make a statement to the House of Commons, “to give an undertaking to secure high quality, highly-skilled jobs and the continued production of the British passport in Britain.”
Liz Twist, the MP for Blaydon which is the location of the De La Rue site, also raised a point of order in the House, and said she had written to Rudd seeking an urgent meeting about the decision.
“I have questions to raise about the procurement process, security and damage to UK reputation,” Twist said.
She also described the decision as “devastating”, in a tweet.
Decision to produce passports abroad is devastating for my constituents who work at De La Rue & a massive blow to the reputation of British business. At a defining moment in our history, this sends out completely the wrong message & will reduce our standing in Europe & the world— Liz Twist MP (@LizTwistMP) March 22, 2018
In a stock exchange announcement after the shock news emerged yesterday, De La Rue said:
“De La Rue has worked closely with HM Passport Office over the last nine years, designing and producing the UK passport and establishing it as one of the most secure passports in the world. The current ten-year contract has a total value of c£400m. Today's decision is expected to have no impact on the performance of current and next financial year. The Company is disappointed with the outcome of the tender process and will now consider its options including an appeal.”
As well as the Daily Mirror, the controversial decision also dominated the front page of today’s Daily Mail, which urged government ministers to ‘Stand up for Britain – for once!’.