Mercer has no confidence in ‘hopeless’ Lewis

Conservative MP and former veterans minister Johnny Mercer has said he does not have confidence in Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

Sunday, 4th July 2021, 5:39 pm
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -  16th June 2021 - 

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis pictured at a press conference at Stormont House, Belfast. 

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 16th June 2021 - Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis pictured at a press conference at Stormont House, Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Mr Mercer resigned his ministerial post in April after expressing frustration at a lack of progress on legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles from prosecution.

He branded Mr Lewis “hopeless” on the issue, after the case against Soldier F for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972 collapsed.

Reacting to that news when it emerged on Friday, Mr Mercer said the attempted prosecution should “never have got this far”.

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Mr Lewis had previously committed to bringing forward legislation to protect soldiers from legacy prosecutions before the summer recess.

“I’ve got no confidence in the Northern Ireland secretary whatsoever. He’s completely hopeless on this issue of legacy,” Mr Mercer told Times Radio on Saturday.

“I think he’s been promising solutions on this for some time, essentially forced me out of government because we couldn’t deliver on our commitments to veterans.

“So, I’ve got no faith at all in the actors who are currently operating in this space.”

Earlier he told the BBC that he was sorry for the families of Bloody Sunday victims, but that “the reality is we have to accept hard truths about this time in Northern Ireland”.

He added: “Justice, and what that justice actually looks like, it’s going to be very, very difficult to attain now.

“My point has always been that I don’t want veterans’ lives completely ruined and interminably investigated and exposed to trying to get to a truth that I think is almost impossible to get to now, 50 years later.

“That’s because of things that are our own fault, whether it’s the standard of investigation, whether it’s the evidence gathered at the time.

“These are things we would all do differently now.

“But I don’t think continuing to stoke the kind of hatred that I’m seeing today, continuing in Northern Ireland is ever going to lead to that peace and reconciliation, and the future that we know Northern Ireland has.”

Mr Mercer, a former Army officer, has repeatedly criticised the government for its handling of legacy issues in Northern Ireland.

He left his ministerial post in April after expressing frustration at a lack of progress on legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles from prosecution.

The following week he attended the trial at Belfast Crown Court of two former paratroopers charged with the murder of a man almost 50 years ago, a process he said was “unfair”.

That case collapsed after a judge excluded statements given by the ex-soldiers about the shooting of Joe McCann in 1972.

That legal ruling led the PPS to review other cases and culminated in the decision on Friday not to proceed with the Soldier F and Soldier B prosecutions.