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Why this passport nonsense has left me feeling blue

The comedian, musician and writer MITCH BENN on why the return of blue passports really is the perfect symbol for Brexit

I type this sitting in a café in Victoria Station.

I have a couple of hours to kill and decided to make use of the time by getting this column written now, rather than leaving it until the panic kicks in during the small hours of the morning like I usually do.

The reason I’m in a café in Victoria Station is that the London passport office is just around the corner, and a short while ago I handed in my old passport – which, I noticed with a jolt of mild panic last week, expires today – with a renewal form and perhaps the two least flattering photographs of me ever taken (which is not without some stiff competition).

I’m doing the ‘one-day fast-track’ renewal thing; it costs a bit more but is definitely worth it, as I’ll return to the office in another couple of hours and my new passport will be ready to collect, rather than spending weeks wondering when/if it’ll turn up in the post.

There’s always a twinge of nostalgia involved in handing in an old passport, especially if you’re fortunate enough to be as (relatively) well travelled as myself; leafing through the pages, seeing the various border control stamps and stickers and letting the varyingly fond and/or traumatic memories associated with each destination wash over me (perhaps the proudest memento in this passport I just relinquished was my Indian work permit from the week I spent playing the Mumbai Comedy Store in 2010).

There is also, of course, the rather frostier feeling that comes from contemplating that yet another decade has gone by since the last time I did this (which feels like about six months ago).

It’s never an easy thing to be presented with such a concrete measure of the accelerating pace at which one’s life is racing past, and it’s an extremely sobering thought to contemplate that I’ll be pushing 60 by the time the aforementioned unflattering photos of me have completed their tour of duty (assuming I, or any of us, last that long).

At least the passport I pick up today will still be that pleasing shade of burgundy, rather than the strange royal blue that the post-Brexit passports will be, according to those photographic mock-ups which were doing the rounds a couple of months ago.

The whole ‘return of the blue passports’ nonsense is in many ways the perfect symbol for Brexit, in that it’ll cost a fortune, it’ll achieve precisely nothing apart from making some idiots briefly happy for entirely invalid reasons, it purports to be a leap forward, while not only being a leap backwards but a leap backwards to a past that didn’t even happen – like so much Brexit BS, it’s based on a completely spurious notion of a non-existent glorious Britannic Golden Age (the pre-Maastricht passports were black, not blue; I’m old enough to have had one until 1997)… and, of course, it hasn’t actually happened yet.

It’d be nice to think that my newly-minted EU citizen’s passport would remain so until 2028 (good God, it’ll be 2028 in ten years’ time; that’s not even a science fiction date. We’re already living through the science fiction dates); as it stands, it will suddenly lose most of its powers in the coming years.

There’s a notion enshrined in American politics at least, that while representative democracy is by far the best system of governance (or at least, as Churchill may or may not have observed, the worst one apart from all the others), there are certain things that should never be put to a popular vote; specifically, civil rights, especially those of minorities. One must not, the principle states, empower the majority to disempower the minority.

Had the 13th Amendment been subject to a referendum, it’s more than likely that slavery would not have been abolished in the US after the Civil War; similarly had the Civil Rights laws brought in during the 1960s been thrown to the public, then black people in the South might still be denied the vote… as indeed, incidentally, they are being again (albeit unofficially) since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act a few years ago. Expect some seriously dirty electoral tricks from the Republicans later this year ahead of the mid-term elections, given that continued Republican control of Congress (and denial of impeachment rights to the Democrats) may well end up being the only thing that keeps the current President in office (or, indeed, out of prison).

I don’t think any such principle has been enshrined, or even proposed, in the rather more nebulous legal framework of our own country, but had it been, Brexit would be in direct violation of that principle.

A tiny majority (and probably not even a majority any more, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant) has been empowered to remove the right to live, work and travel freely throughout the community from those of us who wished to retain those rights, to say nothing of the rights of our children (it makes my blood boil to think of my own daughters being denied the same freedoms I enjoyed as a young man, for no reason except to indulge the fantasies of the tiny-minded and ill-informed, and of course to shore up the fortunes of the Conservative Party) or indeed, the rights which are already being brutally stripped away from the foreign-born EU nationals currently resident in this country.

By what right – what moral right – is this being done? Those who regarded such rights of travel, work and residence as unpatriotic backsliding, or indeed a bourgeois indulgence (and who continue to say as much on social media) were already perfectly entitled to remain in this country their whole lives. But what right had they to confine the rest of us?

Time’s up; I’m off to get my last burgundy passport. Unless things change. Which they still could.


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