East of England MEP Stuart Agnew has likened anti-Islam UKIP leadership hopeful Anne Marie Waters to 'Joan of Arc' and confirmed he will be her deputy if she wins.

Mr Agnew said Ms Waters was a 'unique' candidate but admitted her leadership bid will cause division within a party still reeling from a poor general election.

Ms Waters has been widely criticised for setting up a UK division of Italian far-right group Pegida alongside notorious English Defensive League founder Tommy Robinson.

Sources also say she is being helped in her campaign by Jack Buckby, the only candidate to stand against Labour in the seat vacated after Jo Cox's murder. He stood as the candidate for Liberty GB a movement which refers to transgender people as 'freaks' and called immigrants 'savages'.

At a rally in Manchester in June Ms Waters told the crowd 'Islam is a killing machine'.

Mr Agnew said: 'I will be her deputy if she wins. She is willing to talk about issues largely ignored by other parties – female genital mutilation, Sharia law.

'I think she has been on a journey and there is no stopping her. She is a driven and impressive woman. I would not be able to look myself in the mirror each morning unless I gave her my full backing. She is unique – a Joan of Arc-like figure.

'This is already divisive within the party and that will increase if she wins. But this is a vital moment for UKIP and we have three choices: we can say 'job done on Europe, let's wind up'; we can stay as a party of low taxes and small government; or we can address the issues at the heart of so many of the problems we face in this country today. I think Anne Marie can do the latter.

'There are perhaps some question marks [over her involvement with Tommy Robinson and Jack Buckby] but she is well aware that associations with certain people might not be helpful.'

This week two senior UKIP figures – MEPs Bill Etheridge and Patrick O'Flynn – raised fears about the direction of the party.