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If May had opted for British passport maker, she would have been endorsing Trump-style protectionism

The UK's post-Brexit blue passports will be made by French company Gemalto. Credit: PA

The outrage among Brexiters, especially Tory ones, that the UK’s Brexit blue passports will be made by French company Gemalto is really odd – and may show quite how many, varied and contradictory are the motives of those who voted to leave the EU.

For what it’s worth the message of the prime minister, here in Brussels as part of the long negotiating slog to extricate Britain from the EU, has been simple and consistent. She wants Brexit Britain to be global Britain, open Britain, a champion of free trade.

If that’s her route to prosperity, she and her fellow ministers had no choice but to accept the bid from the French company to print the back-to-the-future travel documents – because it was charging £120m less than the rival, the UK’s De La Rue.

To have gone with the much higher British bid, just because it is notionally British, would have been to resort to the kind of protectionism and de facto state aid that most Tories would argue has been a historic failure.

Apart from anything else, it would have been to in effect endorse the protectionist philosophy of Donald Trump, and by extension his tariffs on Chinese steel, which she and her fellow EU leaders see as toxic - and whose negative impact on global prosperity they are frantically trying to avert in their summit talks today.

What possible basis would Theresa May and the home secretary Amber Rudd have had for attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – with its ambitions to nationalise and intervene before breakfast, lunch and tea in British industry – if they had deployed £120m to sustain the profit margins of stock-market-listed De La Rue, rather than using it to fund the recently announced pay rises for midwives, nurses and hospital orderlies?

What is the point of a Tory government if it isn’t to eschew a culture of state aid for industry and subsidies for favoured UK companies?

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This is not to say that eschewing that culture is best for Britain, but to argue that the Tories stand for nothing if not relatively free markets.

Which does not mean putting no weight on manufacturing and manufacturing jobs in Britain. As it happens, the contract with Gemalto will – government sources insist – create work for workers in two factories in the UK.

So for the avoidance of doubt, what has happened with the passport contract is not an accident, and should be seen as what economic life in Brexit Britain is all about, under a Conservative government.

And, by the way, those who say the government was anyway prevented from awarding the contract to the higher British bidder because we haven’t yet left the EU, and its rules on state procurement would prevent us doing so, are also talking rubbish.

First, such rules are to an extent modelled on rules governing global trade, the WTO’s rules, and we aren’t leaving the WTO.

But more significantly, the EU’s rules on procurement and state aid have not prevented French passports being printed by a nationalised French company.

Or to put it another way, the Tory vision of Brexit Britain may be to put the country first, but that does not mean putting any particular British company first.

Even the government’s critics would presumably agree that equating the national interest with that of De La Rue, or any single company, might well be a short cut to national penury.