The home secretary has accused a Labour MP of deliberately misleading the public “by misrepresenting the time it is taking to process passport applications”.
Priti Patel wrote to Afzal Khan, who represents Manchester Gorton for Labour, following an exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on 8 June.
The Labour MP had challenged Boris Johnson over the prime minister’s assertion two weeks early that “To the best of my knowledge, everybody is getting their passport within four to six weeks”.
Mr Khan said: “The Passport Office is currently quoting a 10-week service time, and many of my constituents are waiting considerably longer than that.
“Cancelled summer trips could cost families more than £1bn. Does the prime minister accept that the Passport Office’s backlog is placing additional pressure on families who are already struggling with the cost of living crisis?”
Mr Johnson responded: “Actually, I can tell the honourable gentleman that 91 per cent of people are getting their passports within six weeks.”
After the exchange, the home secretary wrote to Mr Khan, saying: “Your deliberate political actions will have unnecessarily worried hundreds of thousands of members of the British public who are currently making applications, in order for you to make a futile and cheap political attack against the government.
“Since April 2021, we have informed 5 million passport holders that they should allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their passport in order to factor in the increased demand post-pandemic, which has seen 5 million people delay their passport application, as we anticipated would be the case.
“Dedicated staff are working tirelessly to deal with the record demand, and across March, April and May 2022 we completed the processing of nearly 3 million passport applications.
“In any one year, Her Majesty’s Passport Office usually processes 7 million passport applications. This year an unprecedented 9.5 million applications are forecast to be made; as a result, more passports are currently being processed than ever before, at a rate of up to 250,000 per week.”
According to Home Office figures 9 per cent of applications – around 90,000 monthly – take longer than six weeks, while 1.4 per cent take longer than 10 weeks. That represents 14,000 per month.
Ms Patel says the figures are “in stark contrast to your inference that this is happening regularly.”
She ends: “I hope you will think again before misrepresenting the operational delivery of a government agency and the hard-working officials who have been working tirelessly to deliver passports to members of the British public and refrain from your deliberate and inappropriate scaremongering in future.”
In April, a senior government source said that at a cabinet meeting Mr Johnson had threatened to “privatise the arse” off the Passport Office if delays continued.