UKIP launched its North West campaign for the European elections by firmly rejecting claims the party is racist.

Paul Nuttall, deputy leader of the party and running for re-election as a MEP, said he would be “devastated” if they did not return three representatives to the European Parliament.

He is currently the only UKIP representative in Brussels and Strasbourg out of the eight who represent the North West, The party has been dogged in recent weeks by accusations of racism after UKIP candidate William Henwood was forced to step down for saying comedian Lenny Henry should go leave Britain to “live in a black country”.

During a press conference in Manchester this afternoon with UKIP’s hopeful MEPs, Mr Nuttall fervently denied the party was racist and said their candidates had been the subject of a “witch-hunt” by political parties and the media.

He added the party has set its sights on beating BNP leader Nick Griffin, a current North West MEP, as well as taking away votes away from the main political parties.

Mr Nuttall said: “Seven out of 10 people who voted BNP weren’t racists — they were just detached from politics.

“Three out of 10 were out and out racist, and we don’t want them to come and vote for us.

“BNP was a vote of desperation.”

He also claimed protest action by Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate helped get Mr Griffin elected in 2010, by inadvertently spreading his message.

More UKIP billboards and posters will appear in towns like Bolton in the coming weeks, he said, as the party continues to threaten the established political order.

Meanwhile second on the list Cheshire councillor Louise Bours said she would step into Mr Nuttall’s footsteps and spend a minimal amount of time in the European Parliament, if elected.

She added: “I have been very clear from the beginning with voters that if elected the majority of my time will be spent in the North West.”