No Prime Minister likes a minister allowing public speculation about whether they are going to resign or not. So when reports emerged this morning about Johnny Mercer planning to resign over Northern Ireland veterans not being covered by the Overseas Operations Bill, it was inevitable that Downing Street would sack him if he did not commit to staying. Mercer was duly dismissed tonight following a tempestuous meeting with the chief whip
Mercer’s letter to the Prime Minister doesn’t pull its punches. He accuses the government of lacking ‘moral strength or courage’ in failing to resolve this issue. His letter says that this is leading to veterans ‘being sectioned, drinking themselves to death and dying well before their time’.
Mercer has always been an absolutist on veterans’ issue, an understandable product of his own military services. But the Northern Ireland situation is different from what happens overseas. These soldiers were operating on British territory. There is also a danger that an amnesty on prosecutions would draw a false equivalence between British soldiers and IRA terrorists.
Leo Docherty, another veteran, has been appointed to replace Mercer. But unlike Mercer, Docherty is a former whip and far more likely to take a realist approach to the issue.