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Voices: Passport chaos and broken holidays: Sorry, but this is the Brexit we voted for

Post-Brexit passport rules are catching out many travellers  (Getty/iStock)
Post-Brexit passport rules are catching out many travellers (Getty/iStock)

I’ve still got, somewhere, my original black British passport. When it ran out, the passport office asked if I’d like the old one returned – to which I said yes, on sentimental grounds (so that I could wistfully lay my hands upon it and gaze back at the bewildered youth in the photograph who had no idea what life was going to hurl at him).

It’s a handsome thing, the old passport – if not the bewildered youth – made from cardboard that feels as strong as oak, and finished in a deep, almost glossy black, which gave it the feel of sturdy dependability that a Morris Minor – that other proud British emblem – might inspire in its owner. I used this document to travel fuss-free to the continent during the period when Britain was in the European Union.

When Brexit happened – a vote I take due responsibility for, as I foolishly imagined it would get us a better deal – one of the few unalloyed benefits I presumed we’d enjoy was that we would see the back of the flimsy maroon Euro-passports and return to the old model. But, like the Morris motor car that resembled a poached egg, it has passed into history.

(Some time after Brexit, by the way, it transpired that there was no such thing as a compulsory standard size and colour for the Euro-passport – Mrs Thatcher had just gone along with it because she considered it a matter of such triviality, it wasn’t worth messing up the single market project for the sake of it.)

So, now I have a new, not-quite-black-but-dark-blue UK passport – and not only does it still resemble a building society passbook, but it’s useless with it. To the great horror of about 100 British travellers every single day, it is no longer possible to enter the EU unless your passport was issued less than 10 years before the date you enter the country (so check the date of issue) and is valid for at least three months after the day you plan to leave (so look up the date of expiry). You may also be asked if you’ve got enough money to support yourself. The cheek!

Is this the Brexit we voted for? Well, yes: in the sense that we wished to end free movement and we ended up with a deal that was about as good as it was going to get, botched as it was by Boris Johnson and David Frost.

As we’re now discovering, the not-so-free movement of people is a two-way thing. Of course, if we can’t bothered with pesky passport rules and queueing at the barrier when we arrive at CDG or VCE or BCN, we could always hire a dinghy and paddle across to Calais to begin our European odyssey. But we don’t, because we know – or should do – that the Europeans have just as much right to control their borders and regulate who’s coming to visit, work or live in their land as the UK does.

That’s true of goods, particularly food, moving mostly across the English Channel. The Europeans had no problem shoving up the obstacles to English cheese and Scottish salmon crossing the borders, at much cost. But so troublesome do the British find the idea of running customs checks that we still haven’t gotten around to imposing them, and probably never will – much to the anger of British farmers.

Somehow, as the passport problems and border checks fiasco demonstrate, the UK has managed to engineer for itself a Brexit that represents the worst of all worlds. We don’t seem to be very effective at controlling who and what gets into the UK, and face expensive and apparently insuperable inconvenience when we want to move ourselves or some shellfish across to France or Belgium.

In recognition of the farmers’ tractor protest in London, we should also acknowledge that we’ve (and by “we” I mean Johnson, Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch) done some rotten trade deals with countries such as Australia, which will eventually destroy large sections of British agriculture.

Next year, for whoever is in government after the general election, the EU will impose even more onerous rules. Or, rather, enact the agreements we freely signed in 2019 and 2020.

So you will need an electronic visa waiver (which is actually, in practice, a kind of three-year visa) called the Etias in order to enter the EU (except Ireland), and there will be a modest fee. But it’s yet more bureaucracy, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it won’t get even worse. And, of course, in the post-Brexit world, you will need to take extra care about health insurance and driving in the EU, too.

The EU has indicated that the UK-EU Brexit review due next year will not be an opportunity for yet another go at renegotiating Johnson’s deal, and that all the still-sovereign nations that comprise the EU retain the right to impose their own residency rules and taxation on UK nationals wishing to live or work there.

Brexit, in other words, is the malign gift that keeps on giving – and seeing as the democratic majority voted for it in 2016, we shouldn’t actually complain when the man in the peaked cap at the airport sends us to the detention area and on the next flight back to where we came from. We’d happily do the same, after all.