CHRISTCHURCH MP Chris Chope has received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours - despite (or perhaps because of) the fact he is a fully paid up member of the Tory Party ‘awkward squad’ in Parliament.

Veteran Sir Chris, 70, has been recognised for his political and public service.

The honour comes just a week before the government is due to make an announcement on local government reorganisation in Dorset - something the MP has fiercely opposed for Christchurch. He is also a leading Brexiteer.

Sir Chris told the Echo: “I am gobsmacked but very honoured. Life is full of surprises. I am delighted to be able to share this with my wife, Christo, who has worked with me for over 30 years.”

He added: “This does send a powerful message. Some people believe the patronage system only recognises those who toe the line but this shows that this is not the case. I have always freely expressed my opinion.”

A barrister by profession, his political career began when he was elected as a councillor for Wandsworth in 1974. He became leader five years later.

He left the council on his first election to Parliament in 1983 and until 1992 was MP for Southampton Itchen.

He was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Environment by Margaret Thatcher and, under the leadership of John Major, he served as Roads Minister in the Department for Transport until he lost his seat at the 1992 general election. He was elected for Christchurch in 1997.

At the election in June, he increased his majority in the constituency to over 25,000 - up from his previous majority of just over 18,000 - gaining the strongest Conservative majority in the country and the second strongest vote share.

At the time he said it was a “pity this result is not being replicated across the country”.

For the past two years, Sir Chris has been leading the campaign to prevent Christchurch being merged with Bournemouth and Poole.

He has lobbied ministers and worked with borough councillors to try to thwart the Future Dorset plans to create two new unitary authorities.

Just before Christmas he raised the issue at PMQs, telling the House that 84 per cent of Christchurch residents had just voted to oppose merger and wanted to remain ‘sovereign.’

He asked Theresa May to ensure that the government respected the views of Christchurch. Members of Christchurch council are to meet in special session on Tuesday to discuss their position.

They look set to push for the two tier system in rural Dorset to remain in place.

The Echo understands that a private group meeting of the ruling Conservatives on Thursday agreed that if the government decides to proceed with the shake-up plan on January 8, councillors will “support Chris Chope in his efforts to ensure the wishes of the people of Christchurch are not frustrated.”