The arrest of four serving members of the army for being part of a proscribed neo-Nazi group is an “isolated case”, according to a former senior military figure.

The ex-Commander of Forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, has insisted that extremism in the Army “is not a major problem and has never been”.

His comments come after five men, including four serving members of the army, were arrested under the Terrorism Act on suspicion of being members of banned neo-Nazi group National Action.

Speaking to Jewish News, Kemp said: “Most soldiers keep away from politics and just get on with the job of defending our country which they do extremely well”.

“Because the forces reflect society there will always be isolated cases of wrong-doing in this area as in everything else. But, the cohesion of the armed forces, the discipline and the leadership mean that criminal behaviour is proportionally much less than in society as a whole, and that includes extremist activities.

“The recent arrests are an isolated case and show how seriously the army takes any form of wrongdoing amongst its members.

Richard Kemp

Richard Kemp

The men, who are being held at a West Midlands Police Station, were detained as part of a “pre-planned and intelligence-led” operation, with authorities saying there was “no threat to the public’s safety”.

National Action was proscribed by the Home Office in December 2016, becoming the first far-right group to be banned under terrorism laws. This means that being a member of or inviting support for them is a criminal offence carrying a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

An entry for National Action in the official list of proscribed groups says it is a “racist neo-Nazi group”, established in 2013, and has branches across the UK which “conduct provocative street demonstrations and stunts aimed at intimidating local communities”.

The document adds that the group is “virulently racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic”, and links National Action to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, citing tweets posted in connection with her murder at the hands of right-wing extremist Thomas Mair.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd proscribed National Action after an assessment that it was “concerned in terrorism” ahead of Mair’s trial.

Police said 22 suspected members or associates of National Action were arrested in 2016.