Ex-minister Johnny Mercer says ‘almost nobody’ tells truth in Johnson’s government

Former veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer has launched an extraordinary attack on Boris Johnson’s government, describing it as a “cesspit” and “the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in”.

A day after his resignation, the MP also accused ministers of being “cowards” for not implementing a controversial pledge to end “vexatious historical investigations” of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

During an interview on Times Radio, the former minister said he had quit on Tuesday evening because he had been unable deliver on the promise, originally made by Boris Johnson during his leadership campaign in the summer of 2019.

A clearly angry Mercer, a former army captain, said his resignation was an act of personal accountability – and sought to contrast his conduct with colleagues who remained in government.

“This is the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in, in government. Almost nobody tells the truth is what I’ve worked out over the last 36 hours.

“And, you know, I don’t think anyone really can get on their high horse about trust and ethics and all the rest of it in politics, because as far as I’m concerned, most of it is a bit of a cesspit.”

Ministers, however, have struggled to find a way to implement the pledge, which would be unpopular with the nationalist community, who say dozens of civilian deaths involving British soldiers have not been properly investigated after nearly 50 years.

Mercer said that he had wanted to resign at the dispatch box on Wednesday, “ultimately because I’m accountable, and not make a big song and dance about it”.

That would have come towards the end of a debate on the overseas operations bill – covering the conduct of British troops abroad. But he had been forced to quit on Tuesday by the chief whip, after a string of leaks that he intended to depart.

“I think it’s pretty clear that not everyone tells the truth up here do they. I mean, I told people, I was resigning as a courtesy to government. You know, three hours later, it’s in the press,” Mercer said. “And, of course, they all denied they ever leaked it.”

In response to Mercer’s resignation, Johnson and other ministers said on Wednesday that they intended to introduce legislation in response to the issue. At prime minister’s questions, Johnson said the government would be “bringing forward further measures in due course” when challenged by the DUP.

Insiders, however, said they could not confirm whether a bill would be listed in next month’s Queen’s speech, reflecting the complexity of a problem that evokes strong feelings across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s veterans commissioner, Danny Kinahan, suggested there should be 10-year time limit on prosecutions for all cases, whether the accused were soldiers or republican or loyalist paramilitaries.

But DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said she could not support a blanket limit. There is “no equivalence between terrorists who go out to murder and maim and those veterans … who go out to serve their country and protect”, she said.

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard expressed concern that a time limit on prosecutions could mean some families “would not be able to get justice”. The party also said that British soldiers should “not be above the law”.

Next week, two former members of the parachute regiment, known only as Soldier A and Soldier C, who are both in their 70s, are to go on trial for the murder of the Official IRA commander Joe McCann in Belfast in 1972. It is one of several historic cases due to be heard this year.

The Guardian

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