Constitutions and passports

Northern Ireland is a great place to have been born, at least back when I was. You get to have two nationalities. (And, unlike UK citizens born elsewhere, you’re eligible for the US Diversity green card lottery.) I mean, sure, nationality based on the place in which you happened to be born is kind of arbitrary, but what else do you think nationality is?

Anyway, you get the right to choose two nationalities, which gives you the right to one passport. That’s right: I said one. No one has the right to a British passport.

In Ireland, it’s a constitutional right:

You also have a broader right to travel and to obtain a passport for the purpose of travelling.

Meanwhile, in the UK:

There is no entitlement to a passport and no statutory right to have access to a passport.

Say what?

The British passport is issued in accordance with the Royal Prerogative, which is laid before Parliament from time to time.

The fact that all political power in this nation is vested in a kindly old great-grandmother whom everyone respects is not just a theoretical concern.

How do I know all this? Well, earlier in the year, for some reason that no doubt made sense to me at the time, I decided to renew my British passport, which had expired several years earlier. One of the oddities of the British passport renewal process is the demand that you list and send in all passports (including foreign ones) when renewing. This does take away some of the convenience of having multiple passports, when you have to send them all away and can’t travel at all, and is one of the reasons why I hadn’t bothered to renew it before.

The situation with the Irish passport is very different: if your current passport is valid for less than six months, you can just send a photocopy, meaning that you can still travel. You can see which one is more convenient and more attuned to the needs of citizens, and oh, look, it’s the country with an actual constitution.

In order to avoid having to be without any passport at all for an unspecified duration, I elected to pay the handsome fee for the one-day UK passport renewal service. This costs 77% more, but in exchange you turn up in person, hand over the documents at a desk, go away, and come back six hours later to pick up your freshly printed passport. If you can afford it, it’s worth it; as a dual national, it rankles.

I chatted with the chap at the desk, and observed that I was only paying extra for this process so that I wouldn’t have to be without any passport at all. He glanced at my Irish passport, handed it back, and told me:

There’s no actual basis in law for requiring foreign passports, and we don’t have any way to tell if you have another passport.

I felt like a bit of a mug. Why didn’t I just send away the form neglecting to mention my other passport, wait a few weeks, and save the extra £55.50?

So I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Her Majesty’s Passport Office.

You can interpret their response as you like, but note that they didn’t do anything more than look at my Irish passport, so the biometric excuse seems unconvincing.

I don’t wonder why the opportunity to remake the state afresh appeals to so many in Scotland.

Comments

  1. James Adam

    Wrote at 2014-09-15 03:02 UTC using Chrome 37.0.2062.120 on Mac OS X:

    Yeah, the reasoning in their response to your FOI request boils down to “The document is required to support identity and nationality checks”, but I cannot see how passports from another country support nationality checks when the only relevant one is whether or not you are a UK citizen, unless the UK is suddenly preventing multiple citizenship.

    Given the response in the FOI request about what happens if you simply don’t tell HMPO about other passports, and your own experience at the office, the whole thing smacks of bureaucracy from the film “Brasil”. Crazy.