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FactCheck: Was the burgundy passport 'enforced' on Britain when it joined the EU?

Today the Conservative Party said the UK’s exit from the EU gives it an opportunity to restore its national identity.

TODAY THE SUN Newspaper in the UK declared a “stunning victory” as it reported the news that the British passport will revert back to its blue cover after Brexit.

The UK’s Home Office said this was a “move to symbolise our national identity”.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK passport is an expression of the nation’s “independence and sovereignty”.

There has been debate about this move today, however, as the UK government is implying it could not have issued blue passports as a member of the EU.

In the Sun’s report, it also suggested the design had been forced on the UK. Let’s put the claim to the test.

Claim: The burgundy colour for passports was “enforced” on the UK.

What was said:

In its story today, The Sun said the UK government had “agreed to our [The Sun's] demand to scrap the EU’s burgundy model, enforced on the nation from 1988″.

Theresa May also said the return of the blue passport will happen after Britain leaves the EU.

“Leaving the EU gives us a unique opportunity to restore our national identity and forge a new path for ourselves in the world,” May’s Conservative party said in a statement about the passport change.

The facts

There have been a number of EU regulations over the years dealing with passport uniformity. One resolution in 1981 says the passport should be “burgundy red” in colour.

However, further resolutions in 2004 did not make reference to the colour of the front cover.

It is worth noting here that not all member state passports have burgundy covers. Most EU passports are some shade of red, but the passport for Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, is dark blue.

In August 2015, Ranko Ostojic, the Croatian interior minister, told the Večernji List newspaper that the EU’s position is that there is no obligation to change the colour of the passport.

“Not all European passports are burgundy red, they range from brown to burgundy to dark red. We are not going to change our colour, just add the European Union title.”

In his 2017 book ‘What has the EU Ever Done for Us? How the European Union Changed Britain’, David Charter quotes a European Commission spokesperson, who confirmed  resolutions are non-binding and “there are still some differences between the various models of passports issued by the member states”.

The spokesperson said the 2004 regulations achieved harmonisation on security features and biometrics.

“However format and layout as well as issuing procedures remain within the competence of the Member States,” they said.

In its own statement today, the Conservative party said the burgundy colour “was adopted” by the UK. It does not say this decision was forced upon the government.


There are EU resolutions that reference the burgundy colour, but they are not legally binding and style decisions like that are at the discretion of each members state.

The British government made the decision to take on the EU-style by voluntarily going along with non-binding decisions on uniformity.

Taking all the facts into consideration, we rate this claim: FALSE.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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