THE North-East chairman of UKIP has claimed the party has “lost its way” after announcing he is defecting to the Conservatives.

Steve Turner, who is also a councillor on Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, said he had made the decision because the party lacked a “post Brexit plan” and was not appealing to a broader audience.

He also admitted fearing for the future of the party unless it come up with some new ideas “in the very near future”.

But one North-East UKIP MEP has already said he looks forward to “welcoming” Cllr Turner back once the appeal of joining the Conservatives has “worn off”.

Explaining his decision to defect less than seven weeks before the General Election, Cllr Turner said: “I have watched as UKIP gradually has lost its way.

“I have been hoping and pushing for a post-Brexit agenda but I have seen very little of this happening.

“I am now convinced they are not able to make the changes they need to win votes in the North.

“UKIP will always have a number of core supporters that will work to take the party forward, but it was always my aim to broaden the appeal of the party to attract new people.”

Cllr Turner became UKIP’s first ever councillor in Redcar and Cleveland when he was elected for Longbeck ward in 2015.

He now believes others could follow his example and defect to the Conservatives.

“If UKIP selects the right candidates, it should have enough support to take votes off Labour,” he said.

“Other than that – they have very little to offer.

“The North-East is always a region that has had Labour in its heart – but since Brexit things have changed.

“There is a fantastic opportunity for the Conservatives to take seats like Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Darlington and Bishop Auckland.

“It is much better if the North-East has MPs associated with a party in government rather than a party on the outside looking in.”

Jonathan Arnott, North East UKIP MEP, said: “We are sorry to see Steve go but we look forward to welcoming him back once the gloss of the Conservative election manifesto has worn off and they fail to deliver.”

UKIP’s Paul Oakley added: “I am always sad for members to leave the party.

“This will not distract us from our campaigns both regionally and nationally.”