Theresa May urged to explain to North East workers why post-Brexit British passports will be made in France
The boss of a print firm has called on Theresa May to explain why post-Brexit British passports will be made in France rather than the North East.
The contract to manufacture the document, which Brexiteers see as a symbol of the UK's regained independence, is set to be awarded to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto rather than De La Rue's Gateshead plant.
De La Rue boss Martin Sutherland said it was "disappointing and surprising" that "this icon of British identity is going to be manufactured in France".
Referring to staff at the company's Team Valley plant, which employs people from across the region, he said: "I'm going to have to go and face those workers, look at them in the whites of the eyes and try and explain to them why the British government thinks it's a sensible decision to buy French passports not British passports."
The decision has been condemned by Brexiteers and Mr Sutherland called on the Prime Minister or Home Secretary Amber Rudd to explain their decision to his workers.
Mr Sutherland said the Home Office had confirmed the move to him, although ministers denied the process was complete.
Mr Sutherland said: "I think we have heard over the last few weeks and months ministers more than happy to come on the media and talk about the blue passports and the fact that the blue passport is an icon of British identity.
"Now this icon of British identity is going to be manufactured in France."
Mr Sutherland, who was speaking in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said his firm had been producing passports for the UK for the last 10 years "without a single hiccup" but had been "undercut on price" and would appeal against the decision.
He added: "I would actually like to invite Theresa May or Amber Rudd to come to my factory and explain to my dedicated workforce why they think this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon."
Mr Sutherland said that his firm was "not allowed to compete for the French passport contract".
Shares in De La Rue, which earlier this week warned that profits would come in the bottom of expectations, were down nearly 6% on the London Stock Exchange following the news.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Gemalto undercut other bids by around Â£50million.
Tory MP Sir Bill Cash, chairman of the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, branded the decision "completely wrong and unnecessary".
The tender to produce the passport was put out across the EU under single market rules.
Sir Bill said: "I think it is incongruous to say the least. It is completely unnecessary and it is symbolically completely wrong.
"Whatever the conditions which led to the decision in terms of pricing, the fact is that this is a symbolic event."
Former cabinet minister Priti Patel told The Sun: "This should be a moment that we should be celebrating. The return of our iconic blue passport will re-establish the British identity.
"But to be putting the job in the hands of the French is simply astonishing. It is a national humiliation.
"I would urge Amber Rudd and the Government to look again at the powers they have to see what they can do."
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake told the Press Association: "The blue passport saga is turning into a farce."
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said the procurement process had not been finalised.
"As I understand it, this procurement is not fully complete," he told Today.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are running a fair and open competition to ensure that the new contract delivers a high quality and secure product and offers the best value for money for customers.
"All passports will continue to be personalised with the holder's details in the United Kingdom, meaning that no personal data will leave the UK.
"We do not require passports to be manufactured in the UK. A proportion of blank passport books are currently manufactured overseas, and there are no security or operational reasons why this would not continue."
Unite national officer Louisa Bull said: "Theresa May and Amber Rudd need to explain to De La Rue workers why 'taking back control' means their jobs could be put at risk while the production of Britain's new iconic passport is shipped overseas to France.
"It wouldn't happen in France because of national security and it shouldn't happen in the UK. De La Rue is the UK's leading security printer making banknotes as well as passports sustaining thousands of decent jobs in the UK.
"Ministers need to reverse this decision and start supporting British business and UK workers through public procurement and an industrial strategy which is more than just soundbites."