Wirral Liberal Democrat Euro MP Chris Davies has apologised for making “crass” remarks about Italians pinching a woman’s bottom.

His “spur of the moment” comment came in a BBC interview discussing sexual harassment allegations against Lord Rennard, the party's former chief executive.

Mr Davies,  one of Lord Rennard's most vocal supporters, told Radio 4's Westminster Hour on Sunday: "This is touching someone's leg six years ago at a meeting through clothing.

“This is the equivalent a few years ago of an Italian man pinching a woman's bottom.

“How much is this man going to have to suffer through media condemnation that comes out day after day fed by the party leadership?

“It is completely out of proportion, nonsense and outrageous."

But today Mr Davies regrets the comments: “My remarks about Italians pinching a woman’s bottom were crass and I apologise.

“They were spur of the moment words made during an as live interview as I tried to explain that the accusations against Chris Rennard needed to be put into proportion.

“It happened also that my wife had just told me that she had been asked by a neighbour whether Chris had raped someone.

“Chris Rennard has been my friend for 36 years and I can see the pain he is going through and I reacted as a friend.

“I hope that matters can be settled by him and the complainants civilly and without a further media feeding frenzy.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Lord Rennard hould not rejoin the party's group in the House of Lords unless he apologises to female activists over the claims of sexual harassment.

Internal party disciplinary proceedings against the peer were dropped after a QC investigating them decided they could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

But Alistair Webster QC recommended that Lord Rennard should apologise and change his behaviour, and Mr Clegg believes that, until he says sorry, it would not be appropriate for him to rejoin the Lords.

A number of Lib Dem members have also suggested that his refusal to apologise brings the party into disrepute - the charge that would have been levelled against him over the harassment allegations and which, if upheld, could lead to him being thrown out of the party.

A Lib Dem spokesman said: " Nick Clegg is of the view that, as long as Lord Rennard refuses the very reasonable request from Alistair Webster QC to apologise, that it is inappropriate for him to rejoin the Liberal Democrat group in the House of Lords.

"Nick has communicated this to the Chief Whip and Leader of the House of Lords group.

"In addition, a growing number of party members have come forward to make representations to the party that Lord Rennard's refusal to apologise in itself brings the party into disrepute.

"The Lords Chief Whip and leader of the House of Lords group will be discussing the matter with party HQ and will review the reinstatement of the whip on this basis."