Johnny Mercer leaves UK government over lack of protections for Troubles veterans

Ex-minister says those who served in the North are not ‘second-class veterans’

Former UK veterans minister Johnny Mercer. File photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Former UK veterans minister Johnny Mercer. File photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

 

Johnny Mercer has said he had “no choice” but to leave the UK government after frustration at a lack of progress on legislation to protect British army veterans who served during the Troubles.

Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday evening that prime minister Boris Johnson had accepted Mr Mercer’s resignation as veterans minister, following speculation he intended to quit the post.

However, former army officer Mr Mercer said on Twitter that he was “sorry to have been relieved of my responsibilities in government” amid reports that he was sacked by Mr Johnson.

The MP for Plymouth Moor View has been heavily involved in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which is going through its final stages in parliament.

The legislation was developed in response to legal claims made after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but its protections for defence personnel do not cover incidents in Northern Ireland.

In a letter to the prime minister, which was posted on Twitter, Mr Mercer said the government risks “damaging an already bruised veterans cohort further” with the proposals.

He said he had hoped Mr Johnson’s premiership would “signal a step change in veterans affairs in the UK” and that he had raised his concerns in a face-to-face meeting with him.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am forced to offer you my resignation from your government,” Mr Mercer said in the letter.

“I am . . . desperately sad events have transpired the way they have – I truly have exhausted my efforts and my team to make it work.”

‘Red line’

Mr Mercer said in the letter to the prime minister that not including those who served during the Troubles was his “red line”, adding: “I am deeply proud of my predecessors who served in Northern Ireland.

“They are not second-class veterans. They deserve the protections of the Overseas Operations Bill like everyone else.

“I made promises on your behalf that we would not leave them behind and would walk through simultaneous legislation for them. No discernible efforts have been made to do so, and I can see no prospect of this changing.

“I have no choice but to leave government and campaign for them [Troubles veterans] in parliament.”

Mr Johnson thanked Mr Mercer for his service as a minister following his resignation on Tuesday, according to a Downing Street spokeswoman. – PA