Britain should not ‘scapegoat veterans to pander to terrorists’, says Tory MP
Government may exclude soldiers who served in Northern Ireland from amnesty
Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt said the British government was considering a proposal give veterans an amnesty from historical prosecutions after 10 years but said the change would not apply to allegations arising from service in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
Conservative backbenchers have accused Theresa May’s government of abandoning military veterans after it said a proposed amnesty from historical prosecutions for soldiers who served overseas should not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Conservative MP Mark Francois warned against using the issue of historical prosecutions as a bargaining chip in talks aimed at restoring the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.
“After the appalling, tragic events in Londonderry, we all want to see the NI executive re-established, of course we do. But that cannot be at the price of some rancid, backstairs deal between the Northern Ireland Office and Sinn Féin/IRA to sell Cpl Johnny Atkins down the river as the price of re-establishing the Executive,” he said.
“We have a moral duty to defend those who defended us and we abrogate that duty if for reasons of political convenience we allow the scapegoating of our veterans to pander to terrorists.”
Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt said this week that the government was considering a proposal give veterans an amnesty from historical prosecutions after 10 years but said the change would not apply to allegations arising from service in Northern Ireland. However, she said it was her view that the amnesty should apply to those who served in the North.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government noted Ms Mordaunt’s remarks with “some concern” and was seeking clarification but the Government would not support any such amnesties.
“There are no amnesties from prosecution provided for in the Good Friday Agreement or any subsequent agreements including the Stormont House Agreement,” he told the Dáil.
He warned against allowing any “loose comments” to damage the trust, co-operation and the willingness of all sides to co-operate in the North to ensure the legacy structures committed to proceed as intended.
Northern Ireland Office minister John Penrose told MPs that soldiers serving in Northern Ireland did so on a different legal basis from those who served in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They were there in support of the police, in support of the civil power and there is a different legal basis than if they are fighting abroad in some other kind of conflict,” he said.
The Northern Ireland Office is expected to publish its response to a consultation on legacy institutions within days and Mr Penrose said there was agreement on all sides that the current system failed both former soldiers and police officers and the relatives of victims of the Troubles.
Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith was among a number of MPs who served in Northern Ireland who said the government was failing to defend those who had defended the country. But Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd said that, while soldiers who followed Queen’s Regulations should be protected from vexatious prosecution, those who committed serious crimes should be prosecuted.
“I think we have to be very clear in this House that investigating the most serious crimes where a death has taken place, we have to be resolute and absolute in saying there can be no statute of limitations. Crime is crime. Murder is murder. And we need to establish as a nation that our principles uphold the rule of law, uphold not simply our international obligations but our moral obligations,” he said.