The prime minister has been accused of ‘ripping up the statute book’ after setting out plans to get her unloved Brexit deal ratified by March 29.
May today told MPs that she would enable the House of Commons to lift a requirement for a 21-day delay before any vote to approve an international treaty.
The announcement came as she urged MPs to ‘hold their nerve’ and support her efforts to secure a withdrawal deal which would deliver Brexit by the end of March.
In a statement updating the Commons on progress in Brexit talks, May acknowledged she would need ‘some time’ to seek legally-binding changes from the EU to the backstop for the Irish border.
She confirmed that she would table an amendable motion for debate on Thursday, seeking the House’s continued support for her to demand ‘alternative arrangements’ to keep the border open after Brexit.
And she pledged to return on February 26 with a further statement triggering another debate and votes the following day if she has not secured a deal by that date.
If a deal is agreed, MPs will have a second ‘meaningful vote’, like the one in January which saw May’s original plan rejected by a record-breaking 230 votes.
The February 27 votes are expected to come shortly after May’s planned meeting with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at which changes or additions to the withdrawal agreement could be agreed.
With 45 days to go, former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned that time was running perilously short for ratification of any deal under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.
The Act, passed by the coalition government in 2010, requires 21 sitting days before the ratification of any international treaty.
But May responded: ‘In most circumstances, that period may be important in order for this House to have an opportunity to study that agreement.
‘But of course, in this instance MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote.
‘So while we will follow normal procedure if we can, where there is insufficient time remaining following a successful meaningful vote, we will make provision in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – with Parliament’s consent – to ensure that we are able to ratify on time to guarantee our exit in an orderly way.’
A spokesman later explained that the process would be accelerated by a clause in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill itself, which would disapply the terms of the 2010 Act in this case.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, a supporter of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: ‘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.
‘Cheerleaders for Brexit waxed lyrical that leaving the EU was the only way for our parliament to take back control.
‘But instead it seems the government’s blind determination to exit on the 29th March no matter what means they’re happy to take control away from our elected representatives and force them into a corner.
‘This cynical and undemocratic move must not be allowed to happen.’
May sidestepped demands from several MPs to spell out whether she would ask the EU for an extension to the two-year Brexit negotiation process or allow the UK to crash out without a deal if she hit the March 29 deadline with no agreement.