In a Facebook posting, it was claimed that several elements of the production of UK passports are done by non-UK companies. The image also claims that a company based in Durham, England, was unsuccessful in a tender for an element of this work and is facing bankruptcy. The posting shows an image of a blue-covered UK passport, with the following description: “Made by a Franco-Dutch company in Poland using Italian software to print Spanish ink on to Finnish paper in a tender that beat the company in Durham which is now facing bankruptcy.”
In March 2017, the UK Government put out to tender a contract to print UK passports, under existing UK law, EU law, and World Trade Organisation rules at the time. The contract was awarded to Franco-Dutch firm, Gemalto.
In 2019, Gemalto became part of the multi-national Thales Group and is now part of the DIS section of the company.
During 2020/21, UK passport production transitioned away from De La Rue who made UK passports at its Gateshead factory and did not win the new contract.
UK passport manufacture
We contacted Thales to learn more about where UK passports will be produced. Thales replied that all such queries are being handled by the UK Home Office.
A Home Office spokesperson replied:
“All British passports will continue to be personalised with the holder’s personal details and photograph in the United Kingdom, so that no personal data will leave the UK.
“HM Passport Office works with all of its suppliers to ensure that services are delivered in line with its robust contractual demands and strict governance regime. There are multiple sites for both manufacture and personalisation of passports to ensure an uninterrupted service to meet the expectations of our approximately seven million customers each year.”
Neither Thales nor the Home Office confirmed the exact country in which the new blank passports are manufactured.
The fate of De La Rue
The claim said that De La Rue (“the company in Durham”) was “facing bankruptcy” as a consequence of losing its bid for the passport contract.
Reports of 170 skilled printing job losses (June 2019) were followed by another 80 (June 2020) when passport production ceased at its factory in Gateshead. In January 2021, De La Rue announced it had won a 65% share of the total volume of polymer substrate material used in £5, £10, and £50 notes, in the three years from July 2021. It had a sevenfold increase in first-half adjusted operating profits for 2020.
The UK Government put the contract for the manufacture of UK passports out to tender under existing laws at the time. The contract was awarded to a Franco-Dutch firm that is now part of the Thales Group, based in France.
Aspects of the physical manufacture of the UK passports were not confirmed to FactCheckNI, but the UK Home Office stated that the passports will be personalised in the UK.
The previous producer, De La Rue, closed most of its factory in Gateshead, by December 2020, but in the new year it won a majority share of a contract to supply polymer for UK current notes and has reported that it is operating profitably.