By Ian Dunt
Labour has decided to back down in its fight to introduce ID cards after years of campaigning for their introduction.
The surprise move came this afternoon, during the second reading of the identity documents bill, which would repeal both ID cards and the national identity register.
"We accept the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have mandate to abandon this measure," shadow home secretary Alan Johnson conceded.
Speaking to politics.co.uk yesterday, Labour officials were unsure of whether the party would whip its MPs to oppose the coalition government's decision to repeal the legislation.
But Mr Johnson insisted that those who had already bought cards should still be able to use them.
"We believe the cards already in use should continue to be a valid form of identity," he said.
Former Labour home secretary David Blunkett, who played a substantial role in the introduction of ID cards, stood up brandishing his own ID card to tell the Commons the subject was "rather close to my heart".
Home secretary Theresa May said fewer than 15 million people had an ID card already, and she would write to them to inform them of the change.
Roberta Blackman-Woods from the City of Durham said several of her constituents had been made redundant because of the decision to cancel ID cards.
Ms May said those staff were on temporary short term contracts.
Once the bill receives Royal Assent, ID cards will no longer function as proof of identity within one month. In two months the national identity register will "cease to exist entirely," Ms May said.
But ID cards will remain for foreign nationals coming to the UK, as will the National Biometric Identity Service (NBIS), which retains the biometric details of non-EU migrants living in the UK.
As Ms May argued today, the biometric residency permit for non-EU nationals is in fact an EU law, and not related to ID cards legislation.
"This isn't just about saving money," Ms May said.
"It is un-British. We are a freedom loving people. It's a discomfort born of a very British revulsion of over-intrusive government. I pay tribute to all those who campaigned so hard against the introduction of ID cards."
Campaign group No2ID, which Ms May celebrated in her statement, highlighted some problems in the coalition government's bill, including the reintroduction of a two year sentence for those who legitimately, or through error or misprint, hold identity documents in more than one name.
Phil Booth, national coordinator of NO2ID said: "The government is moving quickly to end the ID scheme. NO2ID applauds this, but we'll be watching like hawks to see the job's done properly.
"It's a shame that such a good start should be so bad in parts. Scrapping the ID scheme was always going to be complicated - not least because the Home Office has been planning its survival strategy for years."