Boris Johnson has defended plans to require voters to prove their identity before casting ballots, despite condemnation from civil liberties groups and senior MPs on both sides of the Commons.
The Prime Minister said on Monday that it was “complete nonsense” to suggest he was trying to supress the votes of those who do not back the Tories by introducing the identification requirement.
Downing Street insisted it was a “reasonable approach” and that 99.6% of people in pilots requiring people to show photographic ID had managed to vote without difficulty.
Mr Johnson said the move, to be included in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, is necessary to “protect democracy”, but Tory former Cabinet minister David Davis said it was an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”.
Campaigners also warned that people without ID would be disenfranchised as a result of the move, especially those in marginalised groups.
But asked if he was trying to limit votes for opposition parties, the Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “I would say that was complete nonsense and what we want to do is to protect democracy, the transparency and the integrity of the electoral process, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask first-time voters to produce some evidence of identity.”
A Government spokesman later clarified the identification will be required “for all voters at polling stations” after Mr Johnson’s suggestion it could be limited to those voting for the first time.
The Tory 2019 manifesto committed to introducing the requirement to produce identification in order to vote at a polling station.
But Mr Davis told The Independent: “It’s yet another unnecessary ID card approach from the Government… There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that there is a problem with voter fraud at polling stations.”
Shadow democracy minister Cat Smith said 3.5 million voters did not have photographic ID and the policy would “put up obstacles for poorer voters”.
“The chances are we all know someone without photo ID, maybe it’s your nan, your son, your mate from the football? Don’t have a driving licence, don’t travel abroad?” she added.
Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “David Davis is right, this policy is a solution in search of a problem.
“Voting is safe and secure in the UK, meaning this policy is just an unnecessary barrier to democratic participation. Ministers need to listen to these concerns and drop these costly plans.
“Millions of people lack photo ID in this country. These proposals will make it harder to vote for huge numbers of voters, locking ordinary people out of our democracy and unfairly discriminating against those who lack ID.”
Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “Millions of people in the UK don’t have photo ID, and the vast majority of them come from communities that are already marginalised and under-represented by our political system.
“Meanwhile the Government’s own findings show our current voting system is safe and secure. Instead of creating more barriers to voting, Ministers should focus on making it easier for everyone to vote, and ensuring we can all have an equal say in our democratic process.
“As there is no justification for this threat to the right to vote, it feels like an opportunistic attack on the rights of some of the most marginalised people in society, a classic example of ruling through division and distrust.”
Under the Government’s plans, rules will be tightened on absent voting and voter intimidation as the Government aims to “stamp out” fraud.
Measures will include a ban on postal vote harvesting by limiting the number of votes a person can hand in at a polling station on behalf of others.
Voter intimidation is also expected to be listed as a form of undue influence in law, in order to prevent people from being coerced into giving up control over their vote.