British citizens can hardly have missed the news of the past few months about the huge administrative mess at the British Passport Office – apparently caused by change in procedure whereby passports are no longer issued at British consulates.
However, a much more sinister change has been quietly slipped in to the British passport application process, with no press coverage whatsoever. This is a change that should send shivers down the spine of every British citizen: it goes further than a new requirement causing consternation in Russia. It’s clear evidence that the government wants to know the exact travel plans of each and every one of us. Peter Macfarlane reports.
“I don’t need a second passport. I’m British.” It’s a statement I’ve heard numerous times over the years. As regular readers of my articles know, I’m a big fan of the multiple flags theory. It is my opinion that everyone who values freedom and liberty should hold citizenship of at least two countries, and preferably more. This opinion is not necessarily politically correct, but it reflects the reality of living in a globalized world.
It’s true that – for the moment – a British passport is a valuable asset. Despite the occasional terrorism risk, it’s a much more practical travel document than a Russia, Chinese or African passport that requires its holder to get a visa to travel almost anywhere. Brits are welcomed visa-free in most developed countries.
And, unlike the U.S. passport, there is no tax on worldwide income for British citizens. UK tax is based on residence, not citizenship!
Non-resident Brits are, therefore, in a relatively privileged position and don’t need a second citizenship at all – at the moment.
But what if some future government decides to extend the British tax net? Unlikely? Perhaps. Impossible? Certainly not. In fact, it’s quite a serious risk. It wouldn’t exactly be unknown for the UK to follow the American lead, would it? Other countries, notably France and Australia, have already talked seriously about doing so.
Britain has always been one of the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to allowing multiple citizenships. In the UK, dual citizenship is expressly permitted. According to British law, you are either British or not British. The fact that you have another citizenship is irrelevant as far as the government in London is concerned.
Or, I should say, it was… up until the new passport system was introduced earlier this year. Now, the British government want to see and make copies of every page of every foreign passport its citizens hold.
This is quite a startling change in the system, that none of the mainstream press has picked up on, and indeed I only came across it by accident.
The guidance notes, contained in this pdf file, are very clear:
…enter details of all uncancelled passports that you are sending us.
A cancelled passport has the top right-hand corner of the cover cut off. An uncancelled passport has not been cancelled by its issuing authority (British or another country). This may include:
• an expired passport (in other words one that has run out, see below)
• passports you are or were included on (for example, as a child), and
• passports issued to you by other countries
Yes, ‘normal’ people are actually expected to mail the original foreign passport in with their British passport application.
Since this would be completely impractical for some non-resident Brits, who can’t be in a foreign country with no passport for 12 weeks, other guidance notes allow copies in certain circumstances. These copies, however, must be in colour and every single page of the passport must be copied.
This, to me, is an amazing about-face in British government policy. Before, foreign citizenship was irrelevant to British citizenship. Legally, it still is. It is none of the British government’s business if its citizens have one or more foreign passports. Yet, they are now effectively asking for dual citizenship to be declared, just like the new law in Putin’s Russia that requires Russians to declare foreign citizenships for the first time.
And not only must dual citizenship be declared, but the only justification for wanting copies of all pages is to look at the entry and exit stamps. So this is actually more intrusive than the new Russian law.
Why is the British Passport Office insisting on this new requirement? What is the legal basis for it? I tried ringing the call center, that is operated by a private company called Teleperformance, but nobody could tell me.
Whatever the justification and whoever thought of it, there can be no denying this is blatant spying on the personal lives and travel plans of British citizens. And once this information is in government databases, it can be used for other purposes – like taxation.
Without a doubt, this is evidence that Brits, and indeed persons of other nationalities who are in similaar situations, should be keeping exit doors open. If you haven’t yet read the 2014 edition of our Second Passport Report, now would definitely be the right moment!