Theresa May is preparing to fly to Jordan within days in a fresh effort to resolve the deadlock over Britain's attempts to deport the extremist preacher Abu Qatada.
The Home Secretary's intervention, which follows the cleric's release this week on bail, will be seen as a sign that she believes the legal obstacles to his return to Jordan can finally be overcome. However, even if she succeeds the Government could face a further lengthy court battle before Qatada is finally deported.
Plans to remove him to face terrorism charges in Jordan were blocked last month by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the grounds that evidence obtained through torture could be used against him. The ruling led to his release from jail under strict conditions while the Government desperately tries to win watertight promises over the conduct of his trial.
The Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, held meetings last week on the issue with Jordanian ministers. He reported that they appeared willing to reach an agreement. If a deal is struck that Britain believes can satisfy the ECHR, the cleric will be rearrested and moves set in train to expel him to Jordan. It looks certain that his team would intervene at this point and go back to court. Qatada could be released from his bail terms in three months if Mrs May fails to resolve the issue.
The Home Secretary said yesterday: "The UK and Jordan remain committed to ensuring Abu Qatada face justice and are pursuing all options with regard to his deportation, and it is my intention to travel to continue those negotiations."
David Cameron told King Abdullah last week of the "frustrating and difficult" position Britain faced in its efforts to deport Qatada. But the monarch's uncle, Prince El-Hassan, has refused to provide a guarantee the cleric would get a fair trial in Jordan.
The Government is resisting calls to ignore the ECHR and deport the cleric anyway.
Qatada, who was described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, had been in detention for six years as Britain has sought ways of removing him. He was released from Long Lartin jail, in Worcestershire, on Monday and is now subject to a 22-hour curfew. Qatada was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998.