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The fate of the UK's national ID card project is looking increasingly doubtful, although new Home Secretary Alan Johnson is unwilling to plunge the knife. Not yet.

Johnson has begun a review of the multi-billion pound scheme and wants to look at it from "first principles".

The new Home Secretary is apparently more open-minded on the scheme than his predecessor Jacqui Smith and wants to see the evidence. Spin doctors told the Sunday Times: "Alan is more sympathetic to the civil liberties arguments than previous home secretaries."

He will make his decision before the end of the summer.

But by the time Johnson's aides got round to briefing The Guardian yesterday, the boss was more in favour of the cards. Or rather he's pressing ahead with the project, but doesn't intend to make carrying the cards compulsory.

From autumn this year, the trial of ID cards at Manchester and City of London airports will begin - new airside staff will have to apply for, and carry, an ID card.

The scheme could be a victim, along with privatisation of the Post Office, of Britain's increasingly battered finances and weakened political leadership.

Estimates of the cost of introduction of ID cards vary widely - the Sunday Times reckons it will cost £6bn, which may be as accurate as any.

The fate of ID cards will likely be settled in the run up to the next election - the Tories have promised to scrap them, which they think will save the country £2bn. ®

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