UKIP's south west chairman has quit the party over controversial MEP candidate Carl Benjamin.

Richard Ford, also formerly chairman of UKIP's Gloucestershire partym said he was concerned about the direction the party was taking, with UKIP leader Gerard Batten linked to Mr Benjamin and ex-English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson.

Ex-UKIP chairman's statement in full

Backing Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, Mr Ford said: “Many of us here in Gloucestershire have been growing increasingly concerned and uneasy for some time at the direction in which Gerard Batten is moving the party. Things first came to a head last December in a motion of no confidence at the party’s NEC over Mr Batten’s increasing association of both himself and the party with the EDL founder

Tommy Robinson. This was after Mr Batten had defied the express will of the NEC to distance itself and UKIP from this association.

“Now Mr Batten seems to have gone one stage further and promoted and endorsed the adoption of controversial YouTuber Carl Benjamin, Sargon of Akkad as one of the party’s lead candidates for the South West region in the forthcoming EU Parliamentary Elections, which are currently scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 23.

“All that these associations have done is to distract UKIP’s focus and attention away from Brexit at a key time for our country, when the Conservative government under Theresa May’s failing and chaotic leadership is just not delivering the result of the referendum at which people voted nearly three years ago, and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is not offering any real alternative.

“We need to focus urgently on the Brexit which the British people and the people of Gloucestershire voted for nearly three years ago, and therefore I am writing to inform the Party Chairman that I am resigning from all my UKIP offices with immediate effect. I believe The Brexit Party now offers the only realistic hope of achieving the exit from the European Union for which a majority of the British people voted in 2016."

UKIP responds

A party spokesman said: ”UKIP is committed to a policy of unilateral, unconditional withdrawal from the EU, no ifs, or buts.

”Individuals who may have been disappointed that they did not make the grade to get a place on our EU elections candidate lists have chosen to part ways with the party.

”UKIP is getting stronger by the day and will campaign hard up and down the UK over the next four weeks.

”Carl Benjamin is a free speech campaigner who is challenging the gatekeepers of political correctness.

“Mr Benjamin’s background as a YouTube entertainer should not, and will not exclude him from candidacy. Mr Benjamin will remain on the UKIP ticket.”