The government says it will resist a bail application from lawyers representing Abu Qatada, the radical Muslim cleric ministers want to deport to Jordan.
Abu Qatada was arrested on Tuesday and denied bail by an immigration judge as Home Secretary Theresa May announced his deportation would go ahead.
But following confusion about whether an appeal against his deportation was submitted in time, Qatada could now be released.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday: “If he applies for bail, we will oppose it vigorously. It is our fim intention to see him deported.”
She said Mr Cameron still had confidence in Home Secretary Theresa May.
Mrs May insists that the application by the radical cleric’s lawyers to prevent him being sent to Jordan should be thrown out by the European court of human rights (ECHR) because it missed a three-month appeal deadline.
However, Labour has released advice from the research department of the Council of Europe – which is responsible for the court – suggesting it may have just made the deadline.
But the confusion over the appeal could lead to Qatada being back on British streets in just two or three weeks.
Mr Justice Mitting, the British special immigration appeals commission judge, returned Qatada to jail this week after a rapidly convened court hearing found deportation was imminent and the chance of Qatada trying to abscond had increased.
But in his written judgment he said if it is “obvious” in two or three weeks that deportation is “not imminent” he will reconsider bail.
The revelation came as the government faced further embarrassment over the case when a note, sent to the House of Commons library, emerged that appeared to back the Qatada team’s appeal timings.
It was signed by Nathalie Chene of Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers Council of Europe.
It stresses that the final decision on whether the appeal is admissible now rests with a panel of five judges from the court’s grand chamber.
“The Othman (Qatada) case was supposed to become final on 17/04/2012 and, according to the information provided by the European Court, the applicant requested a referral to the Grand Chamber on the 17/04,” the note said.
“So I would say that it just in time but of course the Court (panel) may decide otherwise.”
In the Commons yesterday, Mrs May was adamant that the appeal deadline had passed 24 hours earlier at midnight on Monday – 16 April.
“The government is clear that Abu Qatada has no right to refer the case to the grand chamber of the European court of human rights, since the three-month deadline to do so lapsed at midnight on Monday,” she said.
“The government has written to the European court to make clear our case that the application should be rejected because it is out of time.”