Theresa May personally blocked ministers putting forward legislation which could have protected former soldiers from prosecution for alleged offences during the Northern Ireland Troubles, it has been reported.
The Prime Minister issued instructions that a consultation document on dealing with the legacy of the conflict should not contain references to “amnesties” or a “statute of limitations”, according to a leaked memorandum seen by The Sunday Telegraph.
It goes on to say that military veterans should be offered “equal, rather than preferential, treatment” relative to other groups covered by the consultation, which included terrorists.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who has campaigned to protect veterans from repeated investigations into historical allegations, described the memorandum as a “sucker punch”, saying he found the comments “genuinely appalling”.
“That troops, uniformed and sent by the Crown to an unpopular, difficult and bloody war, should not have the Government, at least starting, on their side is totally unacceptable,” he said in an article for the Telegraph.
The memorandum, dated March 2018, was said to have been written by Mrs May’s assistant private secretary.
It was sent to the Northern Ireland Office and Ministry of Defence as ministers and officials were drawing up a consultation document on “addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past”.
It stated: “The Prime Minister has decided that the consultation document should not contain specific reference to a ‘statute of limitations’ or ‘amnesties’, in line with government policy.
“The Ministry of Defence should work closely with the Northern Ireland office to ensure that their veterans package offers equal, rather than preferential, treatment relative to other groups or individuals affected by this consultation.”
A number of Northern Ireland veterans are currently facing charges, including Soldier F, who has been charged in relation to the killings of two protesters during Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.
The disclosure comes after new Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt last week announced plans for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans of overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the proposals there would be a “presumption against prosecution” in relation to alleged incidents dating back more than 10 years, unless there were “exceptional circumstances”.
As it stands, the legislation will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, although in an apparent break with Government policy, Ms Mordaunt said she intended to find a way they could be afforded the similar protection.