Conservatives have lost control of a town hall after one of their councillors defected to the UK Independence Party.

After days of speculation, Phil Howson, who is both a Lewes district and East Sussex county councillor for Peacehaven, has officially made the switch.

The announcement, a month before the local county elections in May, means the Tories running Lewes District Council will now have to operate as a minority administration.

However, council leader James Page said as far as he was concerned it was “business as usual”.

Coun Page said: “It does mean that we lose our working majority. But does that matter?

“Despite the politicking we work quite closely with our Liberal Democrat opponents.

He added: “My local experience is that people have gone to Ukip as they are disen- chanted with their own per- sonal effectiveness rather than philosophy.”

Local members of the Conservative party claim that Coun Howson defected as he was not reselected to stand as a county councillor for the election on May 2.

He will now stand for Ukip instead. But Coun Howson will not have to re-contest his Peacehaven and Telscombe seat on the district council until 2015.

Coun Page called on him to “do the honourable thing” by stepping down immediately and re-contesting the seat in a by-election.

Coun Howson said: “As a member of the Conservative Party all my life, this has been a big decision to change to Ukip.

“Like my other colleague I have lost faith with a party that constantly reneges on
promises made.”

Peacehaven Town councillor Ian Buchanan, who is a former town mayor, has also defected.

Coun Howson is the second Tory councillor on Lewes council to switch to the rightwing party in recent months.

It means there are now 20 Tories, 18 Lib Dems, two Ukip and one Independent. There are no Labour or Green councillors.

Ann De Vecchi, chairman of the local Liberal Democ- rats, said: “Even the Tories have lost faith in the Tories. “They are in meltdown, and cannot be looking for- ward to the local county council elections in May.”