Tony Blair's hopes of bringing in a national system of identity cards were looking increasingly imperilled last night amid signs of collapsing public support and panic within the Government.
A YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph shows that backing for ID cards has plummeted from 78 per cent less than two years ago to 45 per cent.
The figures, released as MPs begin detailed debate of the legislation this week, will dismay ministers who have claimed public support for the project. It will also embolden opponents at Westminster to redouble their fight.
Amid further signs of Labour disarray, it emerged yesterday that the Prime Minister had delivered a furious rebuke to Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, for "going soft" on the fight against crime.
A Downing Street memo, reported in The Sunday Telegraph, revealed that Mr Blair had intervened to order Mr Clarke to cap the cost of identity cards to limit the Labour backbench rebellion in last week's vote in the Commons.
The memo also revealed that he ordered urgent action to prevent a "sense of fatalism" creeping in to Labour's "respect" agenda which includes ID cards, anti-social behaviour and the fight against crime.
Both No 10 and the Home Office denied that Mr Clarke had been rebuked.
The memo also disclosed that Louise Casey, the national director of Government's anti-social behaviour unit, would now report directly to Mr Blair as well as the Home Secretary.
Labour's post-election problems piled pressure on Mr Blair - who arrived in Singapore yesterday for the decisive vote on London's Olympic bid - to deliver eye-catching deals on Africa and climate change at the G8 summit this week.
But his domestic ID card project is coming under growing fire despite Mr Blair's claims that it will help combat identity theft, benefit fraud, terrorism and abuse of the immigration system.
As well as civil liberties concerns, many MPs are worried about the cost of the technically-ambitious scheme.
The Government's majority of 67 fell to 31 at the Bill's second reading last week, and the legislation faces further difficulties in the Commons and a hostile reaction in the Lords.
Today's survey suggests that voters are increasingly fearful about the costs of ID cards and the prospect of administrative chaos that could plague their introduction.
Only one in 10 believes that the cards would be introduced efficiently while 84 per cent think they will bring "disruption and inconvenience".
MPs who oppose the plans predicted last night that Mr Blair would be forced to shelve a scheme he had hoped to force on to the Statute Book within a year.
John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: "As people become more aware of the cost, the inability of the technology to work and the impact on civil liberties they realise they don't want ID cards. At some stage the Government will have to accept reality and let the whole idea die quietly."
Kate Hoey, the Labour MP for Vauxhall, said: "In another six months support will sink even further. This is the Government's opportunity to recognise reality, stop wasting public money and get out while the going is good."
David Davis, the favourite to succeed Michael Howard as Tory leader, said: "The Government has not just lost the argument on ID cards. It is also losing the plot on this massive project which shows every sign of spiralling out of control."
Last week a report by academics at the London School of Economics (LSE) said the cost of cards could be as high £20 billion - three times Government estimates. The LSE put the lowest cost to each individual at £170.
Mr Clarke dismissed the LSE figures saying the total cost of a biometric passport containing fingerprints and an iris scan - and a separate ID card - would be around £100 and hinted that he would cap the bill at that level.
Last week Mr Blair suggested that he does not see ID cards as an issue of confidence. Asked whether he could be persuaded to drop the plan if the opposition became overwhelming, he said: "I did not come into politics to introduce identity cards."