London(CNN) The British government has unveiled the country's new, blue post-Brexit passports, hailing the return of an "iconic" document that became a thorny issue during the UK's protracted departure from the European Union.
The first dark blue passports, which ditch the burgundy covers used by EU member states, will be issued in early March, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Saturday. Patel spoke of her excitement that "the British passport will once again be entwined with our national identity."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously praised the color change as a "wonderful thing" and bemoaned his "sense of personal loss and outrage" when the UK's previous blue passports were "taken away" in 1988.
What neither mentioned, however, was that the new passports are being made by the Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto at its site in Tczew, Poland.
"I actually like the French-designed Polish-printed new UK passport," former Remain-backing MEP Seb Dance said after the launch. "Of course the previous one -- which allowed Brits the right to work, study and retire freely across their own continent -- was probably more useful."
The prospect of a return to blue passports became a divisive subplot during the UK's bitter EU referendum in 2016 and its torturous attempts to leave the bloc in the years since -- and those battle lines were re-drawn after the launch was confirmed.
Brexiteers have frequently painted the move as a way to reclaim British identity and freedom from the EU, while Remainers saw it as a petty and inward-looking obsession.
"I think it's a wonderful thing if people want to have a blue passport again," Johnson told ITV News in 2017. "I remember a sense of personal loss and outrage when they were taken away." The UK was under no obligation to change the color of its passports in 1988, but decided to do so in line with its fellow EU members.
"What a way to symbolise renewed national spirit," campaign group Leave.EU said on Twitter on Saturday, after the change was confirmed for March.
Former British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, in contrast, said the passports "symbolise (a) prevailing Tory attitude to rest of Europe: isolationist, ignorant and self-destructive."
The country prints new passports every few years, and the contract to make the new blue items was won by Gemalto in 2018 after it beat out British company De La Rue. At the time, Conservative MP Priti Patel called the decision "disgraceful" and "perverse."
But in more amenable language, Patel -- now the Home Secretary -- said on Saturday: "Leaving the European Union gave us a unique opportunity to restore our national identity and forge a new path in the world."
"By returning to the iconic blue and gold design, the British passport will once again be entwined with our national identity and I cannot wait to travel on one," she added.
The UK will now join 81 other countries which use blue on their passport covers, according to the Passport Index. The color is also adopted by nations including Argentina, Australia, Syria, Tuvalu and North Korea.
Britain left the EU on January 31, but negotiations with the EU are set to continue this year ahead of the expiration of the transition period in the withdrawal agreement.