This Insight is now out of date. For up-to-date information, including using British passports in the EU after Brexit, see section 2 of our briefing After Brexit: Visiting, working, and living in the EU.

The design of British passports is changing due to Brexit. This is regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal.
This Insight looks at how Brexit will impact the use of British passports in the EU after exit day, and the introduction of new ones.

New British passports 

The Home Office has contracted Gemalto UK Ltd on a 11.5 year contract to design and produce the new British passports. Gemalto is reportedly a Franco-Dutch company and the decision to outsource the production of British passports has sparked controversy.  

The Government said it will issue the new British passports in two stages. The first stage began on 30 March this year.

Passports from 30 March 2019 

Since 30 March, new British passports have continued to be issued in burgundy. However, some passports have been issued with the words ‘European Union’ on the front cover, and some without. It is not possible for passport applicants to choose which version they would prefer.  

On the validity of passports without ‘European Union’ on the cover, the Government guidance explains:

“There will be no difference for British citizens whether they are using a passport that includes the words European Union, or a passport that does not include the words European Union. Both designs will be equally valid for travel.”  

On the change, the Guardian reported that: “the move angered those applying for new passports who were hoping to hold on to an emblem of EU membership.” From exit day onwards, the Government intends to cease issuing any passports with the words ‘European Union’ on the cover. 

Passports from late 2019 

Blue passports without the words ‘European Union’ will be issued from late 2019 in a phased approach. The Government explains: “if you renew your passport between late 2019 and early 2020, you’ll be issued with either a blue or a burgundy British passport. You will not be able to choose whether you get a burgundy or a blue passport during this time. All British passports issued from early 2020 will be blue.” 

British passports close to expiry 

British passports which are nearing expiry may need to be renewed earlier in the event of a no-deal Brexit. If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, we can assume there will be a transition period, during which the UK will will remain bound by EU law.

Passports following a no-deal Brexit

The UK Government has issued guidance to British passport holders who plan to travel to the EU after a potential no-deal Brexit. It states that passport holders should have at least six months left – regardless of whether you are a child or an adult – to travel to ‘most countries in Europe,’ not including Ireland. 

For people who have renewed their passport before a previous one expires, it adds:

“Extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 6 months needed.” 

This change is occurring because British citizens would be considered ‘third country nationals’ in the EU after a no-deal Brexit and thus subject to different passport requirements. The current requirements for British passport holders travelling in the EU state that passports need to be valid for the duration of your stay, other than in northern Cyprus, where it must be valid for at least six months.

Passports following a deal with transition period 

Under a deal which establishes a transition period, there would be no change to British passport validity in the EU during this period. Whether or not British passport holders would be subject to third country national rules, or other rules, after the transition period, would depend on agreements on the future relationship.  

How have other EU Member States reacted? 

The 27 other EU Member States have informed the European Commission about their policies on citizens’ travel rights after a no-deal Brexit.

Their rules governing the passports of British citizens travelling to EU27 Member States or crossing the EU’s external borders remain unclear. Their replies to the Commission state only: “you will have to carry your passport.”

There is no comment on British passports that have already been issued without the words ‘European Union’ on them, nor on whether existing burgundy passports with EU signage will remain valid until expiry (provided there are six months left on the passport from date of arrival in the EU country). 

Entry at EU ports and airports 

A no-deal Brexit means British citizens will not be entitled to use the fast-track lanes at ports and airports for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens. Longer queueing is expected for British passport holders at passport controls in other EU countries. Portugal has committed to establishing dedicated passport control lanes at major airports for flights arriving from the UK to fast-track the entry of UK tourists. But it is not yet clear whether other EU Member States will offer similar provisions.  

The Independent provided advice for travellers in a recent column and the Government Passport Service has an online facility which allows individuals to check a passport for travel to Europe

About the authors: Vaughne Miller is head of the International Affairs and Defence Section and Hannah Wilkins is an immigration and asylum researcher at the House of Commons Library.

This article was updated on 04.02.2020. It previously said ‘If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, we can assume there will be a transition period, during which the UK will remain inside the EU. It now reads: ‘during which the UK will will remain bound by EU law.’