Back to top

Johnny Mercer misleads public in resignation letter

Johnny Mercer MP

Johnny Mercer misleads public in resignation letter

Johnny Mercer has been accused of making misleading comments about the prosecution of veterans after resigning as a government minister.

Mercer last night left his job as Minister for Defence People and Veterans. He posted an angry resignation letter on social media, claiming that veterans have been “abandoned” due to “endless reinvestigations and inquests”.

But the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain's leading pacifist campaign group, pointed out that in reality British veterans are almost never prosecuted for war-related crimes.

Mercer accused Boris Johnson of not offering “protections” to veterans who fought in Northern Ireland. However, the PPU noted that only six British armed forces veterans of the Troubles are currently facing prosecution. Of the 32 "legacy cases" that the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland ruled on between 2012 and 2019, only five involved British military veterans.

In a particularly bizarre part of his letter, Mercer attributed veterans' mental health problems and alcohol addictions to criminal investigations, rather than the trauma of war, the experience of brutal military training or government underfunding of mental health services.

The PPU expressed alarm that Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey had tweeted his agreement with Mercer's comments. The PPU urged Labour to continue to oppose the Overseas Operations Bill.

The PPU welcomed ministers' plans to amend the bill so that torture and genocide are excluded from the “presumption against prosecution” for British armed forces personnel. But they said that the bill remains unjust, as it puts military personnel on a different level to civilians under the law.

Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union said:

“In reality, British armed forces personnel are almost never prosecuted for war-related crimes. Boris Johnson is making such prosecutions even less likely with the Overseas Operations Bill. But this isn't enough for Jonny Mercer, who gives the impression that he will not be satisfied with anything less than a guarantee that no British veteran will ever be investigated or prosecuted for anything.

“Instead of welcoming Mercer's comments, the Labour front bench needs to stand up to militarism and resist attempts to put the armed forces above the law."

The Overseas Operations Bill introduces a “presumption against prosecution” for crimes alleged to have been committed by UK armed forces personnel after five years. It applies only to the actions of UK forces personnel outside the UK, and thus does not cover actions in Northern Ireland (or any other part of the UK).

The House of Lords has voted to amend the bill to exclude torture, genocide and crimes against humanity from this provision. The UK government have now said that they will amend the bill in this way before presenting it to the Commons again. The Peace Pledge Union remains opposed to the bill, saying that armed forces personnel and civilians should be equal before the law.

Mercer has still not responded to a letter sent to him in 2019 by armed forces veterans who wear white poppies, challenging his statement encouraging people to “ignore” white poppy wearers, which represent remembrance for all victims of war and a commitment to peace.