A UKIP councillor, who suggested business owners should have the right to turn away people based on their sexuality, gender or race – now says “iron fist” equality laws are unnecessary.

Donna Edmunds, a district councillor in Lewes and MEP candidate for the South East, made the remarks about business owners in an online forum.

She had been asked to state whether she supported the views of Oxfordshire Councillor David Silvester.

Mr Silvester was suspended and then expelled from UKIP after blaming the floods of December 2013 and early this year on David Cameron’s decision to legalise equal marriage.

Ms Edmunds said she disagrees with Mr Silvester’s views but added: “I believe that all business owners, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, should be allowed to withhold their services from whomever that choose whenever they choose.

“It’s their business. Why should they be forced to serve or sell to anyone?”

Following widespread criticism on Twitter, in a statement released this afternoon Ms Edmunds said: “I regret what I wrote and can see how an essentially libertarian stance could be broadly misinterpreted.

“I in no way endorse any form of discrimination. I believe in cutting red tape for business and I also strongly believe in an individual’s personal and religious freedoms, but I stand against any form of prejudice.

“I hope this remark has not caused any embarrassment for the party.”

However, in a subsequent statement published on Facebook, Ms Edmunds suggested existing equality laws guarding against homophobic discrimination were unnecessary.

To be clear, I do not condone or agree with discrimination on grounds of race, sexuality or gender (or anything else for that matter). I would not shop in a shop that banned people on grounds of discrimination. If I owned a shop, I would not refuse people service for discriminatory reasons.

However, I do not agree with legislating on this matter. If we are to be a tolerant society, we need to tolerate things we don’t like. That is, in fact, the very definition of tolerance. Pressure from society will force these shops to shut, and these views to dispell. We don’t need the iron fist of government legislation banging down to tell us what to think.

The Equality Act 2010 states that it’s illegal to refuse to provide goods and services based upon a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.