THERESA May has been accused of showing "contempt for democracy" after announcing she will seek to bypass normal parliamentary procedure, raising the prospect of a crunch Commons vote on her Brexit Plan B just days before exit day.

When an international treaty - like the proposed Withdrawal Agreement with the EU - is signed, by law MPs should have 21 days to scrutinise its details before it is implemented.

But the Prime Minister told MPs that they already knew the details of the Withdrawal Agreement, only a few of which, relating to the backstop, she was seeking to change.

Therefore, the 21 days of scrutiny were not needed and the Government would seek to scrap the provision in this instance through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill; once a new deal with Brussels had been struck.

Mrs May explained: "While we will follow normal procedure if we can, where there is insufficient time remaining after the meaningful vote, we will make provision in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, with Parliament's consent, to ensure we are able to ratify on time to guarantee our exit in an orderly way."

However, for many MPs this reference to “insufficient time” raised the prospect that the PM will seek to hold the meaningful vote on her Plan B just days before exit day on March 29.

"This plan shows contempt for our democracy,” declared Labour’s Paul Blomfield. “The Government is trying to avoid proper scrutiny and run down the clock in order to force through its bad Brexit deal; Labour will oppose this change, which would deny Parliament full scrutiny."

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP, speaking on behalf of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, accused Mrs May of a “cynical and undemocratic move,” adding: "May will stop at nothing to crowbar through her botched Brexit deal even if that means ripping up the Statute Book and subverting parliamentary scrutiny and process.”

Just hours after yet another Commons statement on the EU withdrawal process, Labour began its bid to stop the PM from “recklessly running down the clock”; a claim she denied.

Jeremy Corbyn tabled an amendment for tomorrow’s debate and vote on Brexit aimed at forcing Mrs May to hold a meaningful vote by the end of the month.

“This amendment would stop the Government from running down the clock on the Brexit negotiations, hoping MPs can be blackmailed into supporting a botched deal. This is an act of gross irresponsibility,” declared the Labour leader.

However, the expectation is that this amendment will fail and so-called “High Noon” will take place with the third indicative vote, due on February 27.

Yesterday evening, Labour’s Yvette Cooper published a new bill to force a decision by mid-March to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU on March 29 without a deal.

The Yorkshire MP will put forward her amendment for debate and a vote on February 27 when some ministers, including a number in the Cabinet, might be prepared to resign rather than be part of a government that was allowing Britain to plunge over the Brexit cliff-edge. Early indications are that Ms Cooper could expect more Tory support than her unsuccessful effort last month.

She said: "This bill creates a parliamentary safeguard to prevent us drifting into no-deal by accident and to prevent those crucial decisions being left until the final fortnight."

Yesterday during the PM’s update to MPs, Mr Corbyn made a direct appeal to Cabinet ministers to rebel to stop a no-deal outcome.

He said: “No minister, serious about protecting jobs in this country, would allow a prime minister to deliberately run down the clock and play chicken with people's livelihoods. To stand by and do nothing would be a complete dereliction of duty."

Earlier, Mrs May called on MPs to "hold their nerve" and come together behind an EU withdrawal deal which would deliver Brexit on schedule in 44 days’ time.

She insisted she believed the Government could get the necessary changes to the backstop and honour the referendum result in full to “set this country on course for the bright future that every part of this United Kingdom deserves”.

She added: “That is this Government's mission. We shall not stint in our efforts to fulfil it."

In other developments:

*David Lidington, the PM’s de facto deputy, and Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, were in Strasbourg for talks with MEPs and other senior figures at the European Parliament;

*Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, was in Paris for Brexit discussions with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian;

*the European Commission suggested trains would be allowed to continue to run through the Channel Tunnel for three months in the event of a no-deal Brexit;

*Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, urged politicians to find a Brexit solution as he warned over economic risks posed by the slowing Chinese economy, protectionism and "de-globalisation";

*leading Tory Remainer Nicky Morgan said cross-party agreement on a Brexit deal was not possible and urged the PM to face the "reality of the parliamentary arithmetic" after the "tenor" of Mr Corbyn's dismissive response to the lack of progress on reaching a Brexit deal;

*Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses said: "By asking for a further two weeks to try and renegotiate a deal with the EU, the Government has simply called for further business uncertainty and political paralysis," and

*Andrea Leadsom, the Commons Leader, said Brexiteers should not be "purist" about the type of deal Mrs May could secure on the Northern Ireland backstop.