Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has left the government amid his unhappiness over a lack of progress on legislation designed to protect ex-soldiers who served in Northern Ireland.
The former army officer – who served three tours in Afghanistan – said he was “sorry to have been relieved of my responsibilities” on Tuesday night, suggesting he had been sacked.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Mercer wrote: “It is with a heavy heart that I am forced to offer you my resignation from government.”
Shortly before news of his departure from government was confirmed, Mr Mercer told Sky News as he left parliament on Tuesday: “I’ve got nothing to say, they can all play these silly games – I’m not interested.
“I’ve made my position clear to the government, I’ve got nothing to say.”
Mr Mercer – who backed Mr Johnson for the Conservative leadership in 2019 – has been heavily involved in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which is going through its final stages in parliament.
The legislation plans to introduce stronger legal protections for UK troops serving overseas, with ministers citing the problems of a previous investigation into allegations made against Iraq war veterans as one example of the need to legislate.
However, the bill does not apply to operations in the United Kingdom, including events that occurred in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, although the government had promised to introduce separate legislation to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.
In his letter to the prime minister, Mr Mercer wrote: “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. A policy decision was taken not to include them.
“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 in parliament.”
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A Number 10 spokesperson confirmed the prime minister had accepted Mr Mercer’s resignation as Minister for Defence People and Veterans.
“He thanks Johnny Mercer for his service as a government minister since 2019,” the spokesperson added.
It is understood Mr Mercer will be replaced as veterans minister by Aldershot MP Leo Docherty, a fellow army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2007.
He wrote Desert of Death, a book about his time in the armed forces, in 2007.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace posted on Twitter: “Johnny Mercer has been a passionate advocate for veterans & the entire Armed Forces community during his time as a minister.
“I want to thank him for his commitment to the government’s ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran.”
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