|Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely (right) with Princess Anne at a|
"heroes dinner". Photograph: Fiona Hanson/PA
The president of the Royal British Legion has quit his post in the wake of claims that he boasted he could use his honorary position to help defence companies lobby ministers and senior figures in the UK military.
Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely resigned following the allegations made in the Sunday Times, which prompted the legion to launch its own internal inquiry.
In a letter to the legion, Kiszely said he had made "exaggerated and foolish claims" about the access he had and how he could use it.
In a sting operation in which reporters posed as representatives of a South Korean arms company, Kiszely said his role at the legion gave him access to important figures in defence, and described the annual remembrance events as a "tremendous networking opportunity". At other events, he found himself "standing there waiting for the Queen, with nothing else to talk about to [defence secretary] Philip Hammond than whatever", he is recorded as telling the reporters. He claimed he would be having Christmas with the armed forces minister Andrew Robathan. This was denied by the Ministry of Defence.
Confronted by the Sunday Times, Kiszley insisted he "always kept my role as national president of the Royal British Legion completely separate from my business interests".
Another person caught in the sting was Lieutenant General Sir Richard Applegate, a former head of procurement at the Ministry of Defence. He is alleged to have said he successfully lobbied for an Israeli defence firm, even though he was banned from doing so under the rules set out by the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba). The rules say former defence personnel cannot lobby for two years after they have retired.
Others fooled by the Sunday Times included Lord Dannatt, former head of the army; Admiral Trevor Soar, former head of the Royal Navy fleet; Lord Stirrup, former chief of the defence staff, and General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the army.
The legion on Monday said it had received a letter from Kiszely which stated that he was standing down because "it would be inappropriate for me to remain as national president of the Legion".
It continued: "I have … never used any access gained as president to raise the subject of, or discuss, any business interests whatsoever, let alone to make representations on behalf of clients. And I have made it equally clear that I have never breached any government rules related to lobbying. But I made exaggerated and foolish claims to the contrary, incompatible with my position in the Legion.
"I was due to step down from the role in December, and with my successor already nominated, I believe that it is in the Legion's best interests to bring forward the handover to allow him to take over with immediate effect.
"It has been an honour and pleasure to serve as the Legion's national president for the past four years, and I wish it every success in the future."
Chris Simpkins, director general of the Legion, said: "It has been a great honour for the Royal British Legion to be associated with Sir John during the past four years. His example, commitment and dedication to our charitable work on behalf of the armed forces community have been a great help to many and an inspiration to all.
"The Legion's work, including Remembrance events, must be kept free of any suggestion that they could be used for commercial or political gain. Sir John's remarks suggested otherwise.
"I have discussed the matter with Sir John and consulted with the governance committee of the board of trustees and am satisfied that no breach of the Legion's code of conduct has actually occurred. The president does not have any personal guests in his box at the festival in which he hosts senior politicians and military personnel as guests of the Royal British Legion. Sir John's remarks were out of character.
"Sir John's resignation has been accepted. His successor as national president, who had been identified some weeks ago, will be announced shortly."
Hammond has launched a review of rules governing access to ministers and serving officers to "shut down" meetings that could be seen as inappropriate. Though he insisted no contracts had been awarded as a result of outside influence, he said some of the allegations made in the Sunday Times were "deeply damaging to the individuals concerned and their reputations".
"If we find that people are not abiding by the advice they are given then we will need to look at whether there are steps we can take to shut down their access to ministers and officials," he said.
He accused some former officers of "bigging up their capabilities".