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De la Rue given more time to challenge passport decision

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Media captionDe La Rue boss Martin Sutherland

The government has granted a two-week extension in the process to decide who will make UK passports after Brexit.

British company De La Rue - which had lost the £490m contract to French-Dutch Gemalto in March - had requested the longer "standstill period", which has now been agreed by the Home Office.

It means a final decision will now be made on Tuesday 17 April.

De La Rue is also taking initial steps "towards initiating appeal proceedings against the provisional decision".

However, it has refused to clarify what this means legally or how any appeal process might proceed.

The firm says the time extension will give it more time for close scrutiny of the criteria that the Home Office used in coming to its decision to award the contract to Gemalto.

It says it will assess that information and whether it might help it in its arguments.

De La Rue's bid was not the cheapest, but it said it was "the highest quality and technically most secure".

"We have a preferred bidder, which demonstrated it was best able to meet the needs of the passport service, delivering a high quality and secure product and providing best value for money for the taxpayer… that remains the government's position," said the prime minister's official spokesman.

But the extension "will give all bidders the chance to find out more detail and get more information from the Home Office… this is standard process."

The spokesman added: "This has been a rigorous, fair and open process."

The current EU-themed burgundy passport, in use since 1988, will revert to its original blue and gold colour from October 2019. However, people are expected to keep their current passports until they expire.

Before the bidding process extension, a spokesperson for De La Rue had said: "We can accept that we weren't the cheapest, even if our tender represented a significant discount on the current price.

"It has also been suggested that the winning bid was well below our cost price, which causes us to question how sustainable it is."

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Media captionUK passports: 'The blue belongs to us' after Brexit

The decision to give a foreign company the contract had been criticised by pro-Brexit government figures.

Under EU procurement rules, the Home Office was required to open up the bidding process to European firms, although De La Rue has manufactured UK passports since 2009.

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The Home Office had said the proposed Gemalto deal could save the taxpayer £100m-£120m and that 70 new jobs would be created in the UK, at sites in Fareham, in Hampshire, and Heywood in Lancashire.

It comes as a Daily Mail petition calling for the Home Office to give the contract to a British firm reached 273,000 signatures.

The Home Office issues more than six million passports annually and is the only provider of passports to British citizens.

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