UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has suggested that he’s unfairly been portrayed as a homophobe – whilst also defending Ken Clarke’s previous controversial comments about rape.

The party’s parliamentary candidate for the Newark by-election told The Independent on Tuesday: “If you say I personally prefer the idea of heterosexual activity – that gets written up as a homophobic rant.”

Mr Helmer touched upon last month’s controversy where he claimed the public should be able to freely and openly dislike gay people like they would different types of tea.

He told voters in the constituency of Newark that everyone should have the freedom for a “preference”.

Shortly before Mr Helmer announced he was “on strike” when it came to questions with which the media were “relentlessly obsessed” about, such as “tangential comments I made years and years ago” – for example about gay people. 

Mr Helmer also defended Ken Clarke’s controversial comments about “serious rape”.

The former Justice Secretary was widely criticised in 2011 when he apparently suggested that some rapes were less serious than others and that “date rape” did not count as a serious offence

Mr Clarke later apologised for the remarks. However, Mr Helmer said it had been “the only time in life when I have agreed with him”.

“Anybody who suggests that all rapes are the same … in that case why do some guys get a suspended sentence and another guy is sent to jail for 15 years? That proves my point.”

On Monday, Mr Helmer launched a broadside at The Mail on Sunday, accusing the paper of publishing “deliberate and defamatory lies”.

Mr Helmer was quoted by The Mail of having suggested the NHS should offer “cures” for people who are gay.

The 70-year-old wrote the next day on his blog: “Let’s be clear: I have never said that homosexuality is ‘an illness’, or that it can be ‘cured’.

A poll published by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft on Monday suggests the Conservatives will hold Newark in tomorrow’s by-election.