UK MP goes on ‘strike’ over war crime probes

Johnny Mercer has accused government officials of trying to dig up dirt on his past

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the House of Commons in London, Britain May 8, 2019. ©UK Parliament/Roger Harris/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
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An MP for the UK’s ruling Conservative party has gone on strike because of the “offensive” criminal prosecution of former soldiers.

Johnny Mercer, a former serviceman, has campaigned to end legal cases against soldiers in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq but said that the government has failed to act for four years.

He said that he would only vote with the government on Brexit-related issues until laws are introduced to protect veterans from “being repeatedly prosecuted for historical allegations”.

Mr Mercer announced his decision in a letter to the Prime Minister Theresa May, further underscoring the weakness of her troubled administration which has been split over leaving the European Union amid demands for her to quit.

“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.

The prosecution of veterans has provoked controversy in the UK after an inquiry into claims of murder, torture and mistreatment in Iraq was shut down in 2017. A solicitor who brought hundreds of claims was struck off for dishonesty after bringing a number of false cases.

Mr Mercer had headed an inquiry which called for the scrapping of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team which was set up in 2010 and reportedly cost £60 million before its inquiries ended.

In his letter to the prime minister, Mr Mercer cited the cases of elderly veterans being “dragged back to Northern Ireland” to face questions over their conduct some 50 years ago.

One former British soldier learned in March that he would stand trial for murder in connection with the killing in 1972 of 13 peaceful markers in one of the most notorious incidents of civil strife in Northern Ireland.

“The Government has singularly failed to act for four years now and I am simply not prepared to put up with it any more,” Mr Mercer told the BBC.

Mr Mercer has campaigned on the issue since he entered parliament in 2015.

He represents an area on England’s south coast with a strong military presence and was seen as a prospect for future high office within the party but has since fallen out with the party’s hierarchy.

He accused party officials of contacting former veterans to try to dig up dirty from his previous life in the military as “blackmail” to ensure his continued support for the government.

“It has not been an easy decision to make. But this incident with your chief whip has forced my hand,” he wrote in reference to the episode. “It appears that my values and ethos may be slowly, but very firmly, separating from a party I joined in 2015.”

There was no immediate response from Downing Street to his letter