New NIO man voted against war in Iraq – then served in Basra

Pacemaker press 30/7/14   Under Secretary of State for Andrew Murrison.  Picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
Pacemaker press 30/7/14 Under Secretary of State for Andrew Murrison. Picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press

Only once has Parliament voted on a whether to go to war and not long after playing a role in that momentous decision to invade Iraq, Andrew Murrison found himself making history as the first MP to serve in a war which he had voted to oppose.

Dr Murrison, who less than three weeks ago was appointed by the Prime Minister as a junior minister at the Northern Ireland Office, was one of just 15 Tory MPs who in 2003 voted against the war.

Andrew Murrison, MP, in Iraq

Andrew Murrison, MP, in Iraq

Six months later he was called up to serve as a doctor in Basra,a consequence of having joined the Royal Navy Reserve after resigning from the Royal Navy with the rank of surgeon commander to enter the Commons in 2010.

Was it not extraordinary to take part in a war which he not only opposed but had publicly done so? Sitting in his Stormont office, the South West Wiltshire MP says simply: “Well, I’m not by nature a rebel.

“The Iraq War was something I felt profoundly uncomfortable with. We had Tony Blair at that time as Prime Minister who, we were told, was not to be trusted on all matters it seemed, except for the Iraq War.

“What he was proposing didn’t stack up to me and I believe it’s my job to reflect as accurately as possible the views of my constituents and it didn’t seem to be stacking up with them either so it seemed to me a fairly straightforward matter to oppose that war, which is what I did.”

Although he believes that he is in the unique position of being the only MP to vote against the war and subsequently serve in Iraq, Dr Murrison said that he had “no particular difficulty” about taking part in the conflict, albeit as a medic. If you are in the armed forces, you do what you’re told.”

Unsurprisingly, given his military credentials, Dr Murrison was given a posting at the Ministry of Defence as minister for international security strategy. But he insists that he does not view a move to Northern Ireland as a relegation to a far-flung corner of the kingdom

Politically, it is not immediately clear where he sits within the Conservative Party.

He describes himself as a Eurosceptic and is a “good friend” of Liam Fox, a standard bearer for the Tory right.

But he also describes himself as a social liberal “which would put me close to Ken Clarke”, the quintessential ‘wet Tory’.

He has recently supported gay marriage but opposed voluntary euthanasia.

Although he is fresh to the NIO, Dr Murrison appears quite clear about the Government’s position on welfare reform, playing down suggestions from Sinn Fein that a better package can be negotiated with the Treasury.

Referring to Treasury fines to Northern Ireland for not implementing the changes, he says: “If there wasn’t an economic lever, then there wouldn’t be much of an incentive to deal with this, so I think the Assembly needs to know the Treasury’s position and I don’t see that as being greatly flexible.”

Over coming days, his focus will once more turn to matters military. As the Prime Minister’s special representative for First World War centenary commemorations, he has spent two years planning how Britain should remember the Great War.

Those commemorations will formally begin on Monday and last for four years. He says that the Republic of Ireland “will very much be part of” the commemorations, as will Germany.

He says that the desire is for commemoration which fosters reconciliation, not “jingoism and flag-waving”.

Dr Murrison, who earlier this year delivered a lecture in Cork setting out how the British and Irish governments intended to remember the war, has found that the Republic of Ireland has approached the commemorations “very enthusiastically”.

Dr Murrison’s title — Parliamentary Under Secretary of State — is slightly further down the ministerial pecking order than that of his predecessors who were Ministers of State.

But he does not see it as evidence that the Prime Minister is now less interested in the Province: “I don’t think too much importance should be attributed to the various grades of junior minister — I think that would be reading too much into it.”