Home secretary Alan Johnson’s pledge that the government will not make ID cards compulsory is not a U-turn on policy, according to first secretary Lord Mandelson.
The business minister said the government had “always made clear we want to move to a full take-up of ID cards and what Alan Johnson has said is fully consistent with that.”
Mandelson was commenting on the announcement that the trials planned for airside Manchester and London City airport staff will no longer be compulsory.
Johnson also backed down on previously stated aims to make ID cards compulsory for all citizens at some point in the future.
But Mandelson insisted it had always been the government case that ID cards need not apply to every citizen of the country .
Mandelsons comments follow widespread speculation about the future of the scheme, and rumours that Johnson was less enthusiastic about ID cards than his predecessors.
The Tories claimed last week that key statutory instruments required before the scheme can proceed have still to be laid before Parliament, with just three weeks before MPs leave Westminster for their summer holidays.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have said they would scrap the scheme if they came into power.
And a major IT contract for producing the cards themselves has been delayed until at least autumn 2010, after the next General Election.
Tory shadow home secretary Chris Grayling claimed Johnson had decided to beat “a partial retreat” and that this was “symbolic of a government in chaos”.
“They have spent millions on the scheme so far. The home secretary thinks it has been a waste and wants to scrap it, but the prime minister won’t let him. We end up with an absurd fudge instead,” he said.