Brexit Is Happening Now (at Least on Some U.K. Passports)

LONDON — Some British citizens planning to travel abroad already have a tangible sign of what life will look like once the country is no longer a member of the European Union: new passports missing “European Union” on the front cover.

Last month, even as lawmakers wrestled over the principal terms of the withdrawal process known as Brexit, the Home Office said that the design of new passports would change after March 29, the initial date set for Britain’s departure.

For a while, both the old and new designs will be made and both are valid for travel, the Home Office said, adding, “You will not be able to choose whether you get a passport that includes the words European Union or a passport that does not.”

While Brexit itself has been delayed — the original departure deadline was extended to April 12, and Prime Minister Theresa May has asked Brussels for a further postponement — the passport changes have moved forward as planned.

One early recipient, Susan Hindle Barone, posted images of her new and old British passports on Twitter on Friday, asking others to “spot the difference!”

Both passports have burgundy covers dominated by a golden coat of arms. But on one, the words “European Union” were missing from the top.

“Truly appalled,” Ms. Hindle Barone wrote. “I didn’t notice it until I looked at them next to each other. It makes me feel sick.”

In an email on Saturday, Ms. Hindle Barone, a supporter of remaining in the European Union wrote: “I was just shocked and dismayed to see the change to the passport as we haven’t left the E.U. yet. It’s not the passport itself, but what the changes symbolize — something which I believe to be completely futile.”

A Home Office spokeswoman told the BBC that “in order to use leftover stock and achieve best value to the taxpayer,” British passports with “European Union” will still be issued for “a short period.”

Among the chief uncertainties surrounding Brexit was how traveling to Europe would change, depending on whether Britain reached a deal with the bloc. In posters on public transport and the internet, the government has warned people to renew their passports early if they planned to travel as the Brexit process was unfolding.

Drivers who held pink plastic permits under European Union standards were told to get ready to apply for international licenses in case Britain left without a deal.

[Here is what a no-deal Brexit would look like.]

But for Britons, whose passports sometimes are their only form of identification, the document has come to symbolize Brexit. When the government announced that it would return to the old blue passports after Brexit, hailed by Mrs. May (who supported remaining in the bloc) as “an expression of independence,” those in favor of the withdrawal saw a strong sign of their country reclaiming control.

Their joy was soon tempered by news that the documents would most likely be manufactured in France.

The symbolism of seemingly mundane documents is not limited to passports. In 2015, a year after Scotland voted not to declare independence from the United Kingdom, the government placed the British flag on driving licenses issued in England, Scotland and Wales in a bid to foster national unity.

(Driver’s licenses are handled differently in Northern Ireland.) The transport minister at the time, Tariq Ahmad, described the addition as “a true celebration of one-nation Britain.”

The European Union requires its members to make passports with certain security elements, but it does not mandate a uniform design. Nearly all 28 member countries have adopted the recommended layout: the name of the bloc on top, followed by the name of the country, a coat of arms and the word “passport,” with translations of information on the cover in all 24 official languages inside.

Only Croatia, which joined the bloc in 2013, has continued to issue a dark-blue passport.

Britain first issued blue passports in 1921. It had 32 pages and was written in French, according to the Home Office. Passports carried the signature of the foreign secretary until 1947. The covers were changed to burgundy in 1988 to align with Britain’s European partners.

Britons eager to start using a blue passport will have to wait until at least the end of the year, when the government will begin phasing them in. But burgundy booklets will continue to be issued until early 2020.