Home Secretary Theresa May insisted today she was "confident" the Government was "closer to the deportation of Abu Qatada than we were two days ago" after the Jordanian terror suspect lost his attempt to make a final appeal to Europe's human rights judges.
The radical cleric's lawyers have applied for him to be released on bail as it looked likely that deportation proceedings will still take many months. While they rejected the case, the panel of five judges also ruled that Qatada's appeal on the night of April 17 was within the court's deadline, contradicting Mrs May's assertion the three-month appeal deadline from the court's original decision on January 17 expired on the night of April 16.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called on Mrs May to "now accept that she got it wrong when she told the House of Commons 12 times that the date for the deadline of his appeal was the Monday night rather than the Tuesday night".
Speaking during the Commons Justice and Home Affairs debate on the Queen's speech, Conservative Michael Ellis (Northampton North) said: "The Home Secretary said that she now has two options in the deportation of this man.
"One of them is going through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), the other is certifying his further appeal is clearly unfounded. I'm wondering if the Home Secretary can say anything about whether she feels certifying any further appeal is clearly unfounded would be effective?"
Mrs May said she welcomed the court's decision to refuse the application for referral by Abu Qatada, adding she was "taking advice" on both options available to the Government and would announce its position in "due course".
She said: "Of course there are many who would have wished to see a conclusion to the Abu Qatada case rather more swiftly than so far it has been possible to do. But I am confident that we are today closer to the deportation of Abu Qatada than we were two days ago, but we do need to go through the proper processes in the UK courts.
She added: "There are two processes available. What I would say on the certification process is that for that to be adopted by the Government, a very high bar is set if we were to go down that route, because effectively declaring a case against deportation as unfounded, is effectively the same as saying there is no legal argument against the deportation, so a very, very high bar has been set in relation to that, but I am of course taking advice on both of these options and will obviously, make the Government's position clear in due course."
No reasons were given for the panel's refusal to allow the case to be heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Lawyers for Qatada, described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, also applied to a senior immigration judge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for a fresh bail hearing, but no date has yet been set.
Responding to Ms Cooper, Mrs May replied: "On the matter of the deadline, of course I accept that the court has come out, I have to say the Government still does not agree with the court's decision..."
She added: "But the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has today written to the European Court, pointed out some inconsistencies in the guidance that they published on how to calculate the day and asked for the court to clarify for future purposes and to set out revised guidance on this particular matter."
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said Mrs May needed to employ better legal advisers.
The recent debacle over the cut-off date for Qatada to appeal demonstrated the Home Secretary was not receiving the best advice, he said.
Mr Vaz told MPs: "(Mrs May) has paid £1 million on external legal advisers on the Abu Qatada case. It is not that there is an absence of duties, they're not all at the Leveson Inquiry.
"There must be someone else who knows about immigration law. Pay them what they ask to be paid but for goodness sake, get some good legal advice.
"I don't blame ministers for the mistake. I really don't. I don't expect the Home Secretary to pick up the phone and to find out when a deadline is.
"But I do expect that she is able to get that legal advice and if someone says that they think it's wrong, even if it happens to be a journalist from the BBC, then she calls her officials together and gets them to look at it again."
Mr Vaz also claimed the decision by the Government to end the right of appeal for those wishing to attend family events in the UK, such as weddings and funerals, would be a "big mistake".
He said that in half of all appeals against a refusal were overturned at tribunals.
"This Government will regret what they are doing", he added. "All I say to ministers is please look at this again. It is extremely important that you do so."