Personal priority to stop veterans being unfairly prosecuted – Defence Secretary

New Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said it is a “personal priority” for her to ensure that service personnel are not unfairly pursued in relation to allegations of historical misbehaviour.

Ms Mordaunt’s promise came after Conservative MP Johnny Mercer told Theresa May he will no longer support the Government in the Commons unless the historical prosecution of ex-servicemen and women ends.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the former Army officer said he found the repeated investigations into allegations, some dating back decades, “personally offensive”.

He said he was not prepared to vote for Government legislation – except on Brexit – until it took “clear and concrete steps” to end the “abhorrent process”.

“As you know, the historical prosecution of our servicemen and women is a matter that is personally offensive to me. Many are my friends, and I am from their tribe,” he wrote.

“These repeated investigations with no new evidence, the macabre spectacle of elderly veterans being dragged back to Northern Ireland to face those who seek to re-fight that conflict through other means, without any protection from the government who sent them almost 50 years ago, is too much.

“I will not be voting for any of the Government’s legislative actions outside of Brexit until legislation is brought forward to protect veterans from being repeatedly prosecuted for historical allegations.”

In a statement released shortly afterwards, Ms Mordaunt said: “This has dragged on for far too long and it is time for action.

“We owe it to those who take the greatest risk in the service of their nation.

“We will always hold our armed forces and the chain of command to account but I want to ensure our service personnel are not going to be victims of unfounded allegations, as we saw in the case of IHAT (Iraq Historical Allegations Team) or pursued unfairly for events that took place decades ago.

“This is a personal priority for me.”

Mr Mercer has campaigned against the pursuit of legacy cases from the conflicts in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq since he entered Parliament in 2015.

Johnny Mercer in Westminster
Johnny Mercer in Westminster

His intervention will be seen in Westminster as further evidence of the Prime Minister’s crumbling authority.

He recently accused the Tory whips’ office of contacting former Army comrades in an attempt to dig up dirt on him.

He wrote in his letter: “It has not been an easy decision to make. But this incident with your chief whip has forced my hand.

“It appears that my values and ethos may be slowly, but very firmly, separating from a party I joined in 2015.”

Responding to Mr Mercer’s letter, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of our armed forces.

“The issue of prosecutions of veterans is one we take extremely seriously and the Prime Minister is fully aware of the strength of feeling on this, both in Parliament and among the public.

“In relation to Northern Ireland prosecutions, we have been clear the system to investigate the past needs to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the Troubles and to ensure members of our armed forces are not disproportionately affected.

“This is why we have consulted widely on the system. There are a very large number of responses to that consultation and we will be responding to those in due course.”