Minister rejects Blair’s ID card call two hours after refusing to rule it out

A Labour cabinet minister has ruled out the introduction of digital ID cards after Tony Blair called for their use to help control migration.

Business secretary Jonathan Reynolds initially said the government would be “looking at all sorts of things” and he did not want to pre-empt that work.

But in an interview nearly two hours later he said: "I can rule out ID cards for you. That’s not something which is part of our plans."

The idea was one of the former prime minister’s flagship policies in Downing Street, but it was killed off after he lost power.

Pushing the new government to embrace the scheme, he said: "We need a plan to control immigration. If we don’t have rules, we get prejudices.”

On Sunday, Mr Reynolds said the home secretary Yvette Cooper would look at "all sources of advice" on the issue.

But sources close to Ms Cooper said ID cards were not Labour policy and that had not changed.

He later told Times Radio he could rule out ID cards.

Jonathan Reynolds said the new government would ‘look at all sources of advice’ (Sky News)
Jonathan Reynolds said the new government would ‘look at all sources of advice’ (Sky News)

The Independent revealed this weekend that Keir Starmer regularly receives texts from the former prime minister with advice on what he needs to do.

The Labour leader discussed the messages while talking to The Independent’s John Rentoul at his election count in north London just hours before he was confirmed as Britain’s new prime minister. Sir Keir said the advice was “very helpful”.

The row over ID cards also comes as a number of ministers from the Blair and Brown eras prepare to return to government.

Former home secretary Jacqui Smith will enter the Lords as an education minister, while former health secretary Alan Milburn has been tipped for a role in government helping to drive waiting lists down. Former cabinet minister Douglas Alexander will also return as a business minister.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Sir Tony said: "The only game-changer is the full embrace of the potential of technology."

Tony Blair called for digital ID cards to help control immigration (PA Wire)
Tony Blair called for digital ID cards to help control immigration (PA Wire)

He added: "We need a plan to control immigration. If we don’t have rules, we get prejudices.

"In office, I believed the best solution was a system of identity, so that we know precisely who has a right to be here.

"With, again, technology, we should move as the world is moving to digital ID. If not, new border controls will have to be highly effective."

Mr Reynolds told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: "The new home secretary will be looking at all sources of advice when it comes to that.

"But I would just say we have backed the points-based immigration system, we made difficult decisions, particularly when we thought legal migration was too high and it has to come down."

Pressed again on ID cards he said: "Well look, my colleague Yvette Cooper and the rest of the home affairs team will be looking at all sorts of things.

"I’m not going to pre-empt things they may or may not want to do."

In 2020, Blair said it was "common sense to move in the direction of digital IDs" as part of efforts to fight Covid-19.

"You’ll want a record kept by the government of who’s been vaccinated – this will be essential... to restoring confidence," he added.

He also argued that improvements in technology meant privacy issues could "be dealt with".

"You don’t need a large amount of information," he said, adding: "People give a lot more information to their supermarkets than they do to the government."

In 2023, he joined forces with former Tory leader Lord William Hague to call for everyone in the UK to have a digital ID card as part of a "technological revolution".

In a report, they said government records "are still based in a different era".