I have a confession to make. Last Friday I flew back into Stansted from Guernsey, and was about to avail myself of the “blue triangle sign, for arrivals from the Republic of Ireland and the Channel Islands” when for some reason we were redirected through the wheelchair route instead. At the end of this, the wheelchairs were taken to a passport officer, while we islanders just marched straight through to baggage collection – without showing our boarding passes to anyone. So no-one knows I am here. Well, apart from you, but you’re not going to tell anyone, are you? Meanwhile, enormous queues of everyone else waited to show their passports.
This – along with a question I had received during some training in Guernsey – started me thinking about passports. We tend to view them as the über-document – the crème de la crème of identification. (Note the way in which my mastery of European tongues builds to a crescendo.) But let’s think about it for a moment: just how superior an identity document is the passport? To apply for a UK passport – which you can now do online – you need to fill in a form and get it countersigned (and your photo certified) by a British or Irish adult whom you have known for at least two years and who “works in a recognised profession or otherwise has good standing in the community”. The list of suggested persons of good standing is enormous and includes chiropodists, publicans, opticians, Salvation Army officers and travel agents. I am not sure that this approach compares favourably with the much more stringent requirements placed on the regulated sector to ensure that certifiers of copy documents are suitably, well, suitable. I wonder how often the Identity and Passport Service checks that the counter-signatory is who they say they are and knows the applicant? And who can possibly write legibly on the back of a passport-sized photo “I certify that this is a true likeness of [title and full name]” and then sign and date it – a Lilliputian chiropodist, perhaps.