“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and Requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”.
This fantastically theatrical and pompous sentiment is the first impression made by our British passports on diplomats, border guards and government officials the world over (and, as in the illustration, it’s on the front cover not exactly hidden away in the small print). It’s a wonderfully anachronistic reminder of the days when any of us Brits could expect the government to send a gunboat to prise us out of any trouble we might have got ourselves into. Either that or James Bond . . . but be sure Johnny foreigner, ‘you certainly couldn’t mess with us Brits and expect to get away with it’. It’s amazing really that more of us are not marched away for routine ‘internal examinations’.
These days of course British military might and our intelligence services are not quite at superpower levels. But looking at two very sad events over in the last six months (the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the more recent tragic murder of English student Meredith Kercher), there is a current British force that should strike fear into any foreign government or criminal and that’s our media. I’m not sure we get protection from them yet, but there is no doubt that they carry huge power beyond our own shores.
British tabloids are justifiably world famous/infamous for their sensational approach, but the UK’s fortunate position in the middle of the world’s time-zones, the fact that it is home to the headquarters of so many international news organisations (far more non-domestic than New York), the global success of the BBC and the ubiquity of the English language online, means that what were once domestic stories get covered and picked-up globally. Madeleine McCann is a household name around the world and with the daily diet of leaks from lawyers and police in Italy, the Meredith Kercher case may be heading that way too. And that kind of publicity puts both cases high up the ‘to-do’ lists of law enforcement in Portugal and Italy.
Perhaps our passports should threaten a full-scale press invasion rather than hark back to our imperial past.