Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has been sacked after accusing Boris Johnson of lacking the “moral strength and courage” to keep a commitment to prevent ex-soldiers who served in Northern Ireland from prosecution.
Mercer informed Downing Street on Monday of his intention to resign on Wednesday but received a text message on Tuesday from the chief whip, Mark Spencer, informing him he had been sacked from the government’s front bench.
The 39-year-old junior defence minister then posted his resignation letter on Twitter which slated the government. “Whilst we continue to say all the right things, you will understand that if we fail to match that with what we deliver, we risk damaging an already bruised Veteran’s cohort further; as I told you last month in our first face to face meeting, we crossed that line some time ago.”
The government has abandoned veterans, says Mercer
The controversial Overseas Operations Bill – which returns to the Commons tomorrow (Wednesday) – includes measures designed to protect military veterans from prosecution. However, it excludes ex-soldiers who served in Northern Ireland from that protection, a status which Mercer called a “red line” for him continuing to serve as a minister.
In his resignation statement, Mercer writes the government has “abandoned people in a way I simply cannot reconcile” by allowing the “endless investigations” into historic killings to continue.
The former British army captain added: “Veterans are being sectioned, drinking themselves to death and dying well before their time, simply because the UK government cannot find the moral strength or courage we asked of them in bringing peace to Northern Ireland in finding a political solution to stop these appalling injustices.”
Johnson said his government is “committed to doing more over the coming months, including for those who have served in Northern Ireland” while a statement from Downing Street – described as “terse” in the Guardian – thanked Mercer “for his service” since 2019 after confirming the prime minister had “accepted the resignation”.
Trials of ex-soldiers imminent
Mercer said he had hoped Johnson’s premiership would mark “a step-change in veterans affairs” but he has become increasingly unhappy, especially with a number of imminent trials of ex-soldiers due to begin.
Two former members of the parachute regiment – who are in their 70s and known only as Soldier A and Soldier C – go on trial next week for the 1972 murder in Belfast of Joe McCann, the Official IRA commander. Soldier F is currently facing prosecution for events connected to Bloody Sunday in 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in Derry, shooting 27 people and killing 13. Another of the injured later died.
The Guardian’s report reminds that Johnson promised to end what he called the “scourge of vexatious historical investigations” against ex-soldiers during the Conservative party leadership campaign.
Mercer had clashed with Brandon Lewis the Northern Ireland secretary and the defence secretary Ben Wallace over lack of progress on resolving the issue, according to the Telegraph’s report, which adds: “Up to 200 ex-soldiers are thought to face criminal investigations over deaths in Northern Ireland as long as 50 years ago.”