Copeland Council’s previously-independent elected mayor has been accused of “dishonesty” and faced a call for a by-election after he joined the Conservative Party.

Mike Starkie, who was re-elected last year as an independent, announced on Monday that he had joined the party because it gave him the “best chance” of achieving his “vast ambitions” for the area.

The move sparked calls from Copeland’s Labour Party for Mr Starkie to face a by-election, which would not be held until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Karl Connor, vice-chairman of the consitutency party, said: “That this is happening just one year after he stood as an ‘independent’ shows a level of dishonesty — people voted for him as an independent candidate, he should now do the honourable thing and call a by-election (something he was quick to call for Anna Soubry to do when she defected from being a Conservative MP).”

He accused Mr Starkie of positioning himself to be the Conservatives’ candidate if a devolution deal for the county progresses and Cumbrians have to vote for an elected mayor.

“Nobody outside of Copeland knows who Mike Starkie is, and so he wouldn’t win an election to become mayor of Cumbria,” he added.

“I am very sure Mr Starkie knows that — but I am pretty sure he still wants to be mayor of Cumbria.”

Mr Connor also questioned the mayor’s record and said “none” of his election pledges had come off.

Mr Starkie, who is currently set to be elected mayor for three more years, dismissed the comparison to Anna Soubry as he said he had funded his own election campaign and drafted his manifesto, which he stressed would not be changed.

“I believe that joining the Conservatives will help me deliver on the very same manifesto,” he said.

“Labour still has the option to remain part of the solution as I am happy to work in cooperation with councillors of all parties and none."

Mr Starkie said under his watch the council had produced a “real terms reduction in council tax and fees and charges” while improving terms and conditions for staff.

"In the five years I have been in office they [Copeland's Labour Party] have not actually voted anything down so their actions don’t reflect their narrative," he said.