General quits Royal British Legion role over lobbying claims

Lt Gen Sir John Kiszely
Image caption Lt Gen Kiszely was filmed by undercover reporters from the Sunday Times

The president of the Royal British Legion, Lt Gen Sir John Kiszely, has resigned over claims he was involved in defence contract lobbying.

In a letter to the body's national chairman John Farmer, Sir John said it was "inappropriate... to remain as national president of the Legion".

He was one of several retired officers secretly filmed by the Sunday Times, allegedly saying he could influence decision-making over arms deals.

He denies breaking any lobbying rules.

In the footage, seen by BBC News, Sir John allegedly said that his role gave him top-level access at "various extremely boring affairs".

He is shown saying he would be able to speak to the prime minister, the defence secretary and the chief of the defence staff at a Remembrance Day event.

"You are standing there waiting for the Queen with nothing else to talk about," he said.

Sir John had been president of the Legion since 2009. As well as supporting the armed forces community, the organisation "ensures that the nation annually marks their service and sacrifice" at Remembrance Day events.

'Foolish claims'

In his letter of resignation, Sir John said he had always kept his "role of national president completely separate from any business interests".

He added he had "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.

"But I made exaggerated and foolish claims to the contrary, incompatible with my position in the Legion."

Sir John said he was due to step down in December, but believes it is in the body's "best interests" for him to stand down immediately.

The Legion's director general, Chris Simpkins, said he was satisfied that despite Sir John's comments, "no breach of the... code of conduct" had occurred.

He went on: "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."

Mr Simpkins said a successor to Sir John would be publicly announced shortly.

Sir John was among four senior retired servicemen who appeared to suggest they could use their influence to lobby the government on defence procurement.

'Privileged access'

The Sunday Times alleged that Sir John, along with ex-MoD procurement chief Lt Gen Richard Applegate, said they had lobbied on multi-million pound deals while they were in "purdah", a two-year post-retirement period where they are not allowed to work in the private sector.

Former naval fleet commander Adm Sir Trevor Soar was shown saying he had "to be slightly careful of lobbying ministers" but said a way to get around the criteria was "basically [to] ignore it".

The paper also alleged that former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, said he could speak to the MoD's top civil servant, a former school friend.

All four strongly breaching any government lobbying laws.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it would investigate whether it was possible for anyone to secure "privileged access" and whether any rules had been broken.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC access to MPs and senior civil servants by retired senior officers could be "tightened up or shut down", if the system was found to have been abused.

Sir John retired from the Army in 2007. He served with distinction in the Falklands War, and in Bosnia and the Gulf.

He received many awards during his military career, including the Military Cross, the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service and the Legion of Merit.

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