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Diplomatic Passport Policy

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2024

This statement updates the House on forthcoming changes in respect of the issue and use of diplomatic and official passports.

Diplomatic and official passports were first issued in 1994 to UK civil servants accredited, under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations or the Vienna convention on consular relations, whilst on overseas postings at one of our diplomatic missions or consular posts. Their accompanying dependants also received them when the receiving state also agreed to accredit them. The intention was to clarify the holder’s diplomatic status and remove scope for misunderstanding, while ensuring that the privileges and immunities of our accredited staff and their families were respected by their host state. Diplomatic and official passports have been issued on this basis ever since, with only a few case-by-case exceptions agreed, for example to allow their use on security grounds and in relation to countries operating restrictive visa regimes.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has recently conducted the first in-depth review of diplomatic and official passport policy, in the light particularly of the needs of modern diplomatic families, who reflect our increasingly diverse UK society and workforce, and the values we hold in respect of that diversity.

The findings of that departmental review recognised challenges faced by some families in certain countries and the practices of like-minded international partners, and argued for greater flexibility in the issue of diplomatic and official passports. Accordingly, while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will maintain the fundamental link between a diplomatic or official passport and accreditation, the department will introduce some important exceptions, where accreditation by the receiving state will no longer be a prerequisite for issuing diplomatic or official passports, namely:

all same-sex established partners and spouses accompanying an accredited civil servant on an overseas posting, whether the partner or spouse is accredited by the receiving state or not;

unmarried opposite-sex established partners accompanying an accredited civil servant on an overseas posting, again whether they are accredited or not.

These changes will ensure that all spouses and established partners of those accredited to serve the UK overseas will have the same access to diplomatic and official passports. This ensures that the issue of these UK passports will more closely reflect UK values, rather than being limited by the policy of the receiving state in respect of accreditation. Diplomatic and official passports remain travel documents and do not confer the privileges or immunities associated with accreditation under the Vienna conventions.

As a rule, Ministers and other parliamentarians will continue not to be eligible for diplomatic and official passports, reflecting the original controls and limitations stipulated at the time of their introduction. However, where Ministers are required to conduct Government business involving travel to a country operating a restrictive visa regime, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will consider whether issuing a diplomatic passport is necessary to facilitate that business.

These changes will be implemented with immediate effect.