ANDOVER MP’s decision to back the prime minister’s Brexit deal is because “he wants to keep his job in government”, the Labour Party leader for North West Hampshire has quipped.

Labour chief Andy Fitchet said he was “surprised” that Kit Malthouse, MP for North West Hampshire, was supporting prime minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, as a former member of the Brexit lobby alliance within the Conservative Party, the European Research Group (ERG).

Mr Malthouse left the publicly-funded hard-Brexit group in January 2018, the same month he took up his first ministerial role at the Department of Work and Pensions.

On Brexit the regional Labour Party is instead backing a second referendum.

Mr Fitchet said: “North West Hampshire Labour recently held a discussion evening on Brexit. It was good to hear from members with various views on Brexit. Nobody at that meeting, leave or remain voters, supported the prime minister’s deal.

“Now we know the outcome of the negotiations and what the true cost of this or no deal is, we believe it’s right to go back to public and see if this is really what they want. We as a local party back a People’s Vote on the deal and supported that at Labour conference this year.

“Having claimed £2,000 of taxpayers’ money to fund Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group, I was surprised that Kit supported the deal, but I probably understand why - he wants to keep his job in government.”

Mr Fitchet is referring to Mr Malthouse’s expenses claimed for his ERG subscription back in April 2017, but he has since left the group.

Mr Malthouse told the Advertiser last month he believes the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration is the “best available path” to achieve Brexit and maintain good relations with neighbouring countries “at the lowest possible cost to our economy”.

People’s Vote campaign group, North Hampshire for Europe, also expressed its opposition to Mr Malthouse’s decision to support the controversial deal but also by not ruling out the option of no-deal Brexit.

Mr Malthouse said on last Monday it would be ‘inappropriate’ for him as a minister to sign a letter, backed by more than 200 MPs, calling on the prime minister to rule out leaving the EU without a deal.

He also said “no options should be taken off the table” as the government should prepare for “all eventualities.”

Len Gates, spokesperson for North Hampshire for Europe, said: “I am disappointed to see Mr Malthouse has failed to appreciate the real change in public opinion since 2016.

“There is no longer (and never was) a majority for a destructive no deal Brexit and it is irresponsible for any MP to even consider it.

“Mr Malthouse has said he wants to keep all options open. This must include the option of a People’s Vote on the government’s final proposals. Any such vote should include the opportunity to reject Brexit altogether and retain full membership of the EU.”

The MP has dismissed notions of a second referendum, or cancelling Brexit all together, as a “dangerous assault on the core of our democracy.”

In response to Labour’s statement, the MP said: “In the months following the referendum it was useful to my thinking to be a member of the ERG.

“I did however stand down from the group over a year ago and I have not been a member since. Whether a member or not, I remain committed to Brexit and that is why I will be supporting the prime minister in leading us out of the EU in March this year.”