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Fresh Tory pressure on Boris Johnson over 'unfair prosecution' of Troubles veterans

Image credit: PA

Fresh Tory pressure on Boris Johnson over 'unfair prosecution' of Troubles veterans

Boris Johnson is facing fresh calls to guarantee that veterans of the Troubles will not face "unfair prosecution" as the Northern Ireland Assembly returns.

Senior Conservative MPs issued the warnings as the controversial Historic Investigations Unit was given the go-ahead as part of the new deal to restore power sharing at Stormont after three years of political gridlock. 

Successive prime ministers have faced calls to scrap the unit since it was first touted in the 2014 Stormont House agreement between the British and Irish governments.

The unit is investigating allegations of misconduct by service personnel as well as unsolved criminal cases stemming from the decades-long conflict.

Conservative MPs have objected to the pursuit of hundreds of ex-soldiers, and the Tory manifesto vowed to bring in a new law "to tackle the vexatious legal claims that undermine our Armed Forces".

Speaking on a trip to Belfast to hail the new agreement on Monday, Johnson said: "I think that the parties here who have revived Stormont have done a very good job of finding a balance between giving people who are in search of the truth the confidence that they need but also giving people who served our country in the armed services the confidence and certainty that they need.

"We will certainly be going forward as a UK government with our manifesto commitment that you will recollect to ensure that there will be no unfair prosecutions of people who served their country where there is no new evidence to bring forward and I think that is the right balance to be struck."

But former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who served in the Troubles, urged the Prime Minister to "make good as soon as possible the promise to end vexatious actions against former soldiers".

He told The Times: "We cannot have a return of the dreadful fishing expeditions of the past - there must be clear and compelling evidence of the need for an investigation."

Meanwhile fellow Tory MP James Gray, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for the Armed Forces, said: "The notion, as has been rumoured, that one of the terms and conditions of the Stormont agreement is that all historical death cases should now be reopened would be an outrage and goes totally against the manifesto on which we were elected just one month ago."

Conservative MP and former Army officer Richard Drax told The Sun: "Any more delay is going to cause not only a frustration for veterans but frustration among MPs. This has got to be resolved and got to be resolved quickly - we can’t let this drag on anymore."

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer, a longstanding critic of the unit, said the government would continue to work to protect troops from "vexatious prosecutions".

He said: "What this does is lay out a timetable going forward but nothing changes, we are totally committed to what the Prime Minister has said previously about ending vexatious prosecutions of our troops where there is no new evidence.

“The Prime Minister remains absolutely committed to the commitments we have made already and we will be working extremely hard to deliver on them.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Nothing in this agreement stops us from delivering on our manifesto and Queen’s Speech commitments to stop vexatious claims and provide certainty for veterans.

“We have always been clear we would implement the Stormont House agreement in a way that provides certainty for veterans and justice for victims.

“Downing Street will work with the Ministry of Defence and other Whitehall departments to develop proposals in the coming weeks.”

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