CONTROVERSIAL Yorkshire MEP Godfrey Bloom is quitting the UKIP group in Europe, he has confirmed this morning.

Mr Bloom, who represented the party for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire in the European Parliament, had the whip removed last week after joking that a group of female activists were "sluts" while addressing a "women in politics" event at UKIP's annual conference.

He said afterwards that his comments were intended as a joke, but they drew criticism from UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who said he believed disciplinary action should be taken against Mr Bloom and he had gone "beyond the pale".

In a statement released this morning, Mr Bloom - who had also come under fire recently after saying UK foreign aid should not be sent to "bongo bongo land" - said: "I have felt for some time now that the ‘New UKIP’ is not really right for me any more, perhaps, than New Labour was right for the Denis ‘The Beast of Bolsover' Skinner.

"However our message is clear. Self- government. Our wonderful and loyal membership will win through with their dedication and hard work. It has been a pleasure to work with them for 15 years.

"May I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the thousands of people who have supported me with messages of goodwill in the recent months and particularly in recent days. There have been simply too many to make a personal response.

"I shall sit out my term as an independent and give my wholehearted support to Jane Collins. who is almost certainly going to be the next UKIP MEP. and probably a second seat yet to be decided. I shall of course retain my membership. Onwards and upwards!"

The removal of the party whip meant Mr Bloom was suspended from formal involvement in UKIP business, although the sanction did not affect his position as an MEP. Following the "sluts" comment, he was also filmed hitting Channel 4 News reporter Michael Crick over the head with a party leaflet when asked why there were no non-white faces on a campaign flyer. Mr Bloom responded by accusing the journalist of being a "racist".

UKIP sources today said Mr Bloom's temporary suspension had effectively been made permanent and they had not expected him to be a party candidate at next year's European elections. Mr Farage told the BBC: "I'm very sorry it has come to this.

"He's been with us for 15 years, he's sat in the European Parliament since 2004, he absolutely 100 per cent believes in everything UKIP stands for and he's been a good, loyal MEP for us. It's a sorry state of affairs.

"All the things Godfrey has said have not been meant in malice, but they have all been tremendous distractions from the main messages UKIP is trying to push out. Nearly everything he has said has been meant as a joke.

"I don't want to see him hounded out of the party. We're very clear: racism, extremism, we wouldn't tolerate anything like that."