Johnson shows off new ID card - minus the flag

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Indy Politics

The Union Flag will not appear on the identity cards issued to British residents after Home Office officials feared it would offend Irish nationals living in Northern Ireland.

The final design for the card was unveiled by the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, yesterday. While both the EU and Union flags have been left off the final design, a shamrock, a thistle, a rose and a daffodil do appear to represent the UK's four countries, along with the Royal crest. The holder's name, picture, date of birth, sex and their signature all appear on the front of the card. A chip in the back contains another digital image of the card holder, along with two fingerprints.

A Government impact assessment noted that the card must recognise the "identity rights" of the people of Northern Ireland. “We have sought to design features which could reflect all parts of the United Kingdom, such as the inclusion of the shamrock to represent Ireland within the tactile features, and we have sought to avoid symbols such as flags," the document states. Everyone in Northern Ireland can chose to identify as Irish, British or both under the Good Friday agreement.

Despite widespread opposition to the cards, Mr Johnson said that going through with the scheme was a “no brainer". He said it was a “secure and simple way for people to protect and prove their identity and to travel around Europe but leave their passport at home".

The Home Office has now spent more than £200m on the project, leading to criticisms that it was continuing to pour money into a project that looked vulnerable to being axed after the next election. The Tories have said they will scrap the scheme should they form the next Government. Last month, the Home Office announced that the public would never be forced to hold a card, while a plan to make 20,000 airport workers carry them was dropped after union opposition.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said that the scheme remained a "colossal waste of money that achieves nothing". He added: "A designer piece of plastic is not going to combat identity fraud, crime or terrorism. This intrusive scheme should be scrapped immediately."

The North-west is being used as a guinea-pig for rolling out the cards. Residents in the region will be able to buy a card from next year, while they will be made available to the rest of the country from 2011-12. Holders will have to pay to have their details collected on top of the £30 card.