The Duke of York is to step back from public duties for the “foreseeable future”, in an unprecedented move for a royal in modern times.

Andrew – the Queen’s second son – made the bombshell statement after mounting pressure in the wake of his interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Firms including telecoms giant BT and bank Barclays were among a growing number of multimillion-pound businesses, universities and charities which distanced themselves from Andrew amid the fall-out from the Newsnight programme.

Royal author Penny Junor branded the move “absolutely unprecedented”.

She said the decision was inevitable and had probably averted a crisis, but the monarchy was going through very difficult times.

“This is absolutely unprecedented that a fairly senior member of the royal family should be forced to retire from public life,” she said.

The royal writer told the PA news agency: “With all the events of the last year put together, I think the monarchy is going through very difficult times… I think it’s been a disastrous year.”

The duke, in a statement released on his parents’ 72nd wedding anniversary, said that the Queen had given her permission for him to bow out of royal duties.

He said he was willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency, and expressed sympathy with Epstein’s victims – which he had been accused of not showing in his BBC interview.

Andrew said: “It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support.

“Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission.

“I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein.

“His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.

“I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives. Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency.”

Andrew was criticised for showing a lack of empathy towards Epstein’s victims and a lack of remorse over his friendship with the disgraced financier, who took his own life while in prison earlier this year.

In the Newsnight interview, the duke denied claims that he slept with Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s victims, on three separate occasions, twice while she was underage.

BBC interviewDuring the controversial BBC interview (Mark Harrison/BBC/PA)

He said the alleged encounter in 2001 did not happen as he spent the day with his daughter, Princess Beatrice, taking her to Pizza Express in Woking for a party.

Ms Giuffre said the same alleged sexual liaison began with the duke sweating heavily as they danced at London nightclub Tramp.

But the duke said he had a medical condition at the time which meant he did not sweat.

He said he had no recollection of meeting Ms Giuffre.

When asked by the BBC’s Emily Maitlis if he regretted the “whole friendship with Epstein”, the duke replied: “Now, still not and the reason being is that the people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful.”

The duke cancelled a visit to flood-ravaged communities in South Yorkshire on Tuesday.

Trooping the ColourThe Queen with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York on the Buckingham Palace balcony (Victoria Jones/PA)

He faced a barrage of firms and other organisations terminating or reviewing their association with his Pitch@Palace tech entrepreneurs initiative.

Barclays said it was concerned about the situation and was keeping its involvement with Pitch@Palace under review, while BT warned that it would only continue to back a digital skills award programme iDEA if Andrew was dropped as patron.

Asian-focused bank Standard Chartered joined KPMG in deciding not to renew its sponsorship of Pitch@Palace.

London Metropolitan University was considering the duke’s role as its patron, while a student panel at Huddersfield University passed a motion to lobby Andrew to resign as its chancellor.