Introduction of a UK-wide compulsory ID card system will be deferred until after the next election, according to documents leaked to the Tories.
The "high level roll-out strategy for the national identity scheme" reveals that while ID cards will be rolled out to some foreign nationals this year and to staff in "positions of trust" from 2009, a wider introduction will not happen until 2012.
It will take until 2015 for the card to be used to control access to public services, the leaked document notes. Responding to Tory claims that the project was delayed, the government's Identity and Passport Service said: "We do not comment on leaked documents.
"We have always said that the scheme will be rolled out incrementally. As stated in the Strategic Plan for the National Identity Scheme published in December 2006, we will begin issuing ID cards for foreign nationals this year and the first ID cards for British citizens in 2009.
"The Framework procurement for the scheme is currently underway: we will make further announcements about the roll-out of ID cards in due course."
The Tories have pledged to drop the ID card project if elected, prompting Intellect, the IT and communications industry body, to issue an unprecedented warning that any contracts would have to be honoured.
Last November the government said the 10-year cost of providing ID cards for British nationals from October 2007 to October 2017 would be £5.4bn - but admitted costs were not fixed. The cost of ID cards to foreigners would be an additional £182m, it said.