LONDON - Plans to introduce identity cards suffered a serious setback yesterday as a poll discovered public hostility to the controversial scheme is soaring.
Voters saying they back the move has slumped from more than 80 per cent to 55 per cent in six months, according to the survey by ICM Research.
The number of opponents has more than doubled to 43 per cent.
The rebuff came two weeks after the British government reintroduced the ID Cards Bill, which it was forced to abandon as parliamentary time ran out before the last election.
Ministers argue that the measure is essential to combat identity fraud, terrorism and fraudulent use of public services.
They have also repeatedly insisted that a clear majority of voters support the initiative.
But the new survey, commissioned by No2ID, found backing slumped when the public were reminded that the potential cost of a combined passport and ID card could be $240.
A total of 55 per cent believed it was a good idea, against 43 per cent who opposed it.
ICM discovered in December that 81 per cent of voters supported the scheme, against just 17 per cent who thought it was a bad idea.
Anti-ID card campaigners have always argued that support for the cards would haemorrhage once the cost and civil liberties implications became better known.
Phil Booth, No2 ID national co-ordinator, said: "The government knows from international experience that public support for ID cards falls drastically as people discover more about them, which is why they have been so eager to steamroller the legislation through parliament."
Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The more people hear about the ID cards scheme, the less they like it. The government has two options - continue with this flawed project until 80 per cent of the public turn against it or abandon it now."
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Once the detail of the scheme is looked at, it's clear that it is not workable and is also likely to prove hugely expensive to the taxpayer. "
A Home Office spokesman said: "Research we have carried out indicates a far higher majority of the public are in favour. We are absolutely clear the benefits of the identity card scheme will far outweigh the costs."
* ICM interviewed 1010 adults between 10 and 12 June.
- INDEPENDENTBy Nigel Morris