John Reid has provoked anger by signalling he is likely to make a fresh attempt to push through 90-day detention without charge for terrorist suspects in the wake of the alleged transatlantic bomb plot.
Last November the Government was forced to settle for a limit of 28 days in the face of opposition from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and a sizeable minority of Labour MPs.
The Home Secretary was warned last night that any new attempt would also be doomed because of massive opposition.
The measure was championed by Tony Blair and senior ministers after they were lobbied by police chiefs who said the complexity of international terrorism meant they needed more time to prepare cases.
Mr Reid told BBC1 yesterday he was concentrating entirely on the anti-terror operation and said: "In the heat of something like this, it's not always a good idea ... to start talking about introducing measures."
But he made clear the Government was preparing to return to the issue, which suggests it could be included in new anti-terror powers in the Queen's Speech in the autumn.
The Home Secretary argued that the "awful, terrible consequences" of knowing something might be about to happen and being unable to detain suspects long enough "now should be apparent to everyone".
He said: "When we come back to that, I hope we all remember that the police and security services say they need up to 90 days."
David Winnick, the Labour MP who came up with the 28-day formula, said it was obvious ministers would use the terror alert to argue again for a longer limit. He said: "Under no circumstances should they be allowed to raise [it]."
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The argument hasn't changed. We are not aware of suspects being held more than 14 days, let alone the full 28."
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said it would be unacceptable to reopen the subject simply because there was a political opportunity to do so.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said the measure was equivalent to internment and would be as counterproductive as it was when first rejected.Reuse content