UKIP’S last three female MEPs have defected to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party after Ukip’s leader defended a candidate who told a Labour MP: “I wouldn’t even rape you.”

Deputy chair and East Midlands MEP Margot Parker, West Midlands MEP Jill Seymour and Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire MEP Jane Collins all quit Ukip on Monday.

Their departure leaves Ukip with just four of the 24 MEPs it won in 2014, after a wave of resignations over its drift to the far right.

The three women quit the day after Ukip leader Gerard Batten dismissed the rape tweet sent by Carl Benjamin to Labour MP Jess Philips in 2016.

Mr Batten said Mr Benjamin, who has been selected as a Ukip candidate in South West England, was “not a bad person” and his comment had been “satire”.

Ms Collins said: “To have people like Carl Benjamin on the list for the party is something I find disgusting, and to hear Gerard Batten on national TV yesterday defending this man’s use of rape as ‘satire’ made me sick to my stomach.

“I know women who have been raped and the mental and physical destruction it wreaks on these victims and their loved ones is the opposite of satire: it is a tragedy.

“It is simply impossible for me to stay in the party now and I will serve out the rest of my mandate as an MEP for the Brexit Party.”

Ms Parker accused party Mr Batten of “carrying out a purge of party loyalists” and promoting supporters of far right activist Tommy Robinson - who Mr Batten made an adviser - as candidates.

Ms Seymour said that under Mr Batten, Ukip had moved to “the extreme right of politics”.

She said Mr Batten had “deselected hard-working, sitting, female MEPs. I have fought long and hard for equality - I cannot be part of this distasteful regime any longer.”

Ms Seymour added: “I am not walking away from the party’s original core principles, but the present party’s direction means it has walked away from me, and its original membership.

“No one person should ever be bigger than a political party, but sadly I believe that Mr Batten will be instrumental in its demise.”

Ukip suggested Ms Seymour and Ms Parker had left because of sour grapes at not being given winnable positions after they were deemed not to have “honoured their commitments to the party”.

“Ukip is disappointed that they have chosen to side with its opponents, but their motivations are clear. Ukip is entering the Euro elections with the three loyal MEPs who have honoured their commitments, alongside a fresh slate of candidates. We expect to win big.”

Last week, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, whose brother Jacob is a Brexiter Tory MP, announced she had quit the Tories to join Mr Farage’s Brexit party.

Unless MPs agree a Brexit deal, the EU elections will be on May 23.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted the elections could be “very challenging” for Theresa May .

However, with the Tories heading for a thrashing, Labour has little incentive to throw Mrs May a lifeline in its talks with the government.

Mrs May yesterday said some no-deal Brexit preparations must carry on until the latest deadline of October 31. Last week a leaked email said the £1.5bn no-deal plans were being “wound down”.

But the PM said Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill would decide which preparations remained “necessary”.

Making his unofficial pitch for the leadership, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he could have been drawn into a life of crime, as he admitted the bloodshed on Britain’s streets has left him fearing for his children’s safety.

Setting out a plan to tackle the “national emergency” of gang violence, he said he avoided being drawn into shoplifting or drug dealing when growing up on what was dubbed “the most dangerous street in Britain”, and credited the support of his parents and teachers.