Britain's veteran support must 'not be derailed' after sacking of Johnny Mercer

BRITAIN’S strides in supporting its retired military heroes can’t afford to be ‘derailed’ after the nation’s former veterans minister was sacked by Boris Johnson.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 8:52 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 8:58 am

The plea has come from Stephen James, the co-founder of Southsea-based force charity All Call Signs.

It follows the shock firing of former army officer Johnny Mercer, the nation’s first dedicated veterans minister, yesterday.

The Tory MP was reportedly sacked via text after threatening for weeks to resign over the failure to prevent elderly veterans being dragged through the courts in Northern Ireland

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Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer pictured during a visit to Queen Alexandra Hospital to hear from the veteran leads on hospital services in October 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

In a sensational open letter to the prime minister released last night, Mr Mercer tore into his record on issues affecting the veteran community.

Mr Mercer, who served multiple tours of Afghanistan and last month hailed Portsmouth the ‘premier league’ of veterans care, told the PM: ‘I had hoped your premiership would signal a step change in veteran affairs in the UK.

'While we continue to say all the right things, you will understand that if we fail to match that with what we deliver we risk damaging an already bruised veterans’ cohort further – as I told you last month in our first face to face meeting, we crossed that line some time ago.’

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Stephen James, co-founder of All Call Signs, pictured outside the charity's base in Albert Road, Southsea. Photo: Ellie Osborne

Continuing with his blistering assault of the PM, the retired soldier went on to say: ‘Perhaps nothing embodies this more than what we are asking our veterans in their 70s and 80s to relive, through endless reinvestigations and inquests, into events often more than 50 years ago in Northern Ireland.

‘We have abandoned our people in a way I simply cannot reconcile. Whilst endless plans are promised and solutions mused, veterans are being sectioned, drinking themselves to death and dying before their time because the UK government cannot find the moral strength or courage we asked of them in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, in finding a political solution to stop these appalling injustices.’

Veteran soldier Stephen James, who has dealt closely with Mr Mercer and the Office for Veteran Affairs, feared key progress made in building up support for retired military personnel could now be jeopardised.

‘That an Office for Veteran Affairs even exists is in large part due to Johnny Mercer’s insistence that the government did more to care for and protect this country’s veterans and their families,’ said Mr James.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan pictured during the D-Day 75 memorial service in Southsea in 2019. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (060619-20)

‘In the last few years, massive strides have been made in issues around employment, well-being and protection against vexatious criminal proceedings .

‘We hope whoever takes up the mantle next can continue advancing this good work and that it isn’t lost or undone in the politics of it all.

‘The reality is that all good work aside, we’re still at the start of the process needed to ensure veterans and their families are supported in a way that honours the promises made in the Armed Forces Covenant.

‘We can’t afford to be derailed now.’

Stephen Morgan, Labour’s shadow armed forces minister, accused Mr Mercer and the government of failing ‘those who have bravely served’ the nation.

He said the former defence minister had ‘ample opportunity’ to deliver the government’s manifest pledge to protect Northern Ireland veterans and accused Mr Mercer of mounting a ‘vanity project in their name after the horse had bolted’.

The Portsmouth South MP said: ‘The nation’s service personnel will see through this political game playing, and ultimately they deserve so much better from this government.’

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