Why Britain Chose Blue, Not Red, as Its Post-Brexit Passport Color

December 22, 2017, 6:26 PM UTC

There are many unknowns facing the United Kingdom after it voted for Brexit, the term used to describe the departure of Britain from the European Union. Scratch one off the list: passport color.

The British government on Friday announced that it would drop the color burgundy, favored by most European Union states, in favor of blue, the color once seen on British travel documents. Prime Minister Theresa May, a Brexit supporter, described the new color as an “expression of our independence.”

“The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty – symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation,” she wrote in a tweet. “That’s why we have announced that the iconic #bluepassport will return after we leave the European Union in 2019.”

Passport color is as much a political move as it is as matter of national identity. There are four colors available to the world’s nations—red, blue, green, and black—and they often appear along political lines. European Union member states are largely red; Islamic nations typically prefer green. The U.S. has for decades been blue, but American travel documents have been issued in all four colors during the 20th century.

Britain’s burgundy passports were first issued a generation ago, in 1988. Britain will start issuing the new passports in October 2019, according to the government, about seven months after the country plans to leave the European Union.