The Minister for Armed Forces Veterans has reported that he has been “relieved of my responsibilities in government” because he disagrees with Tory policy on prosecutions for historic crimes.
This is extremely dodgy ground. It seems clear to This Writer that, if a serving member of the forces has committed a crime while on active duty – but the evidence only comes to light later – they should still face prosecution for it.
The Tory government sees the matter differently and has included in its Overseas Operations Bill measures to protect veterans from prosecution if the alleged crimes were committed more than five years before any allegations are made…
… except for those who served in Northern Ireland. They have been excluded from this measure, meaning long-retired personnel could face imprisonment for alleged crimes committed decades ago.
Nobody deserves to face the extreme distress of court proceedings and possible imprisonment over false allegations, of course.
But nor should anybody receive an automatic free pass if they did commit crimes, no matter how long ago they happened. Think of paedophiles whose abominable practices with children only come to light decades after they took place.
So Mercer is right to go – but he’s going for the wrong reason.
He should be leaving because personnel who served elsewhere are being let off – not because those who served in Northern Ireland are still on the hook.
He should also be leaving because the government hasn’t bothered to devise ways of weeding out unfounded, frivolous or malicious attempts to prosecute veterans, but has instead opted to offer (potentially) amnesty to criminals.
But nobody can say his views weren’t known. He offered to resign from Theresa May’s government in 2019 over the same issue. So it is perhaps unsurprising that he has now left Boris Johnson’s government after it refused to pay attention to his concerns about the same issue.
Of course, we don’t know the exact circumstances yet. First we were told Mercer was on the point of resigning, then we were told he had been sacked, then that he had actually resigned, and then in his resignation letter he said he had been “relieved” of his responsibilities.
Still, this is another departure over government policy, following that of Samuel Kasumu – who actually quit after Boris Johnson’s cronies rewrote a report on institutional racism in order to pretend that it no longer exists in the UK.
We may conclude that the Johnson government is highly prejudiced. Not only is it deeply racist, but it also discriminates against forces personnel depending on where they served.
That’s not a good look for a government that desperately wants to appear friendly to those in the services after years of scandal over veterans who were left homeless after their discharge.
Mercer himself won’t be short of cash after losing this job – if he’s still got his £85,000-a-year job as ‘non-executive director’ of a cyber-security firm.
So don’t worry about him. Worry about people who have been wronged by our armed forces who won’t get justice – and about veterans who are being wronged by a government that is still allowing vexatious prosecutions against them.
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