The passport manufacturer De La Rue is set to announce it will challenge the government over its decision to manufacture new blue British passports in France.
The company will formally launch an appeal against the decision to award the £490m contract to the French-Dutch firm Gemalto on the grounds that it believes it had the best offer on quality and security, though not on price, according to the Financial Times.
Gemalto has not yet been formally announced as the winning bidder, but the 10-day standstill period in the tender process – the mandatory time between the contract being awarded and when it is formally signed with the successful supplier – is believed to expire on Tuesday.
The Home Office has previously said changing the contractor would save UK taxpayers £120m but the decision has been met with a storm of criticism from Brexit-backing MPs, as well as Labour and trade unions.
Ministers said the tender process was a “rigorous, fair and open competition” and the new passport would be “a high-quality and secure product at the best value for money for our customers and the taxpayer”.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons last month, the immigration minister Caroline Nokes said: “The reality is that in a fair procurement process, we had to look at quality, security and price, and this was the contract that provided the best value on all counts.”
De La Rue’s chief executive, Martin Sutherland, has previously expressed outrage at the decision to award the contract to the rival firm, telling the BBC that Theresa May should “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”.
He said: “Over the last few months we have heard ministers happy to come on the media and talk about the new blue passport and the fact that it is an icon of British identity. But now this icon of British identity is going to be manufactured in France.”
The former international development secretary Priti Patel, a prominent Brexiter, said at the time of the reports that it was a humiliation that the passports would be made abroad, calling the decision “simply astonishing”. Sir Bill Cash, chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee, said it was “symbolically completely wrong”.
The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has also called for a rethink. “Ministers have to understand that the cheapest is not necessarily the best,” she told the House of Commons last month.
Trade unions have expressed concern about the awarding of the contract and the explanation of procurement rules. Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, said the government should not “attempt to hide behind EU procurement rules”, while the GMB union said ministers were “hiding behind bureaucracy instead of standing up for the security of this country and the security of the UK manufacturing sector”.
The blue and gold passports will be issued from October 2019, when the £490m passport contract begins, to British nationals renewing or applying for a new passport. After the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, burgundy passports will continue to be issued but with no reference to the bloc.