Boris Johnson vows to end 'unfair' prosecutions of Army veterans

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

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image source, EPA
image captionBoris Johnson says veterans should be protected from "unfair prosecutions"

Potential prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to end "unfair" prosecutions of Army veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

The Tory leadership contender has joined rival Jeremy Hunt in backing a public campaign supporting soldiers who served during the Troubles.

Many Conservative MPs have called for such a move in recent months.

The government is working on legislation to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Mr Johnson also reportedly promised on Thursday to appoint a veterans minister if he is chosen to lead the Conservative Party.

"We need to end unfair trials of people who served their Queen and country when no new evidence has been produced and when the accusations have already been exhaustively questioned in court," he told the Sun newspaper.

"We must protect people against unfair prosecutions. And I will.

"I totally support the principle of cross-government work to secure world-class care and support for veterans."

Sinn Féin legacy spokesperson Linda Dillon said Mr Boris Johnson was "backing a campaign which is about giving these soldiers immunity from prosecution.

"His comments are a reckless and a highly offensive attack on the rights of victims of the conflict in their search for truth and justice and flies in the face of the views expressed in a public consultation on dealing with the legacy of the past."

image captionSix former soldiers are facing prosecution in connection with Troubles-era killings

A number of Northern Ireland veterans are facing charges, including Soldier F, who has been charged in relation to the killings of two protesters on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

Former Northern Ireland Police Chief Constable Sir George Hamilton has previously said official figures show that investigations are not unfairly focused on the armed forces and police.

The idea of a statute of limitations for former soldiers is backed by many Conservative backbenchers, including some who served in Northern Ireland.

But it was withdrawn from a legacy consultation document published in May 2018, even though Prime Minister Theresa May had claimed the system for investigating the past was "patently unfair".

Last week, the Northern Ireland Office published responses to its consultation, which showed a "clear majority" of respondents felt an amnesty for Troubles-related matters would be inappropriate.

No specific question was asked on the proposal for a so-called statute of limitations for military veterans.

It would prevent veterans from being prosecuted.

image source, UK Parliament
image captionSimon Hoare was elected as the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in June

However, the recently elected chairman of Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said he did not think it was right to put timeframes on bringing forward legislation.

Simon Hoare told BBC News NI he had been asked to back the campaign but chose not to because of his committee role.

The Conservative MP for North Dorset said any solution that did not work for everyone would "not last very long".

"It's more important to get it right," he told the Good Morning Ulster programme.

Mr Hoare said he did not support Mr Johnson's Tory leadership campaign as he found the former foreign secretary to be "not be across the detail" on many matters.

Mr Johnson is battling it out with the current foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to become the next prime minister.

They are trying to convince around 160,000 Conservative Party members to support them in the ballot for the top job, with the winner set to be announced on 23 July.

Here's a quick guide to their positions on Brexit, immigration, tax, spending, health and social care and education.

Compare the candidates' policies

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Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to leave with a deal, but says he would back a no-deal Brexit with "a heavy heart" if necessary. - Will create a new negotiating team to produce an "alternative exit deal" to Theresa May’s plan, and engage with EU leaders over August. - Will present a provisional no-deal Brexit budget in early September and decide by the end of the month if there is a "realistic chance" of a new deal. - If not, will abandon talks and focus on no deal preparations. - Pledges to cover the cost of tariffs imposed on the exports of the farming and fishing industries in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson

- Vows to leave the EU by the 31 October deadline "come what may", but claims the chance of a no-deal Brexit is a "million to one". - Wants to negotiate a new deal, which will include replacing the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements. - Will not hand over the £39bn divorce settlement with the EU until the UK gets a new deal. - If a new deal is not agreed, will ask the EU for a "standstill period" to negotiate a free trade deal. - Argues a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT 24, could be used for the UK to avoid tariffs for the next 10 years, but admits it would need EU sign off. - Promises to support the rural community in a no-deal Brexit scenario with "price support" and "efficiency payments".


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised. - Wants to review policy of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work. - Pledges to scrap the target to reduce net migration to below 100,000.

Boris Johnson

- Wants a new Australian-style points-based system, considering factors such as whether an immigrant has a firm job offer and their ability to speak English. - Will get Migration Advisory Committee to examine the plan. - Wants to block the ability for immigrants to claim benefits immediately after the arrive in the UK. - Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 a year.


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into "the next Silicon Valley... a hub of innovation". - Wants to cut corporation tax to 12.5%. - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year. - Pledges to scrap business rates for 90% of high street shops. - Will increase the tax-free annual investment allowance from £1m to £5m.

Boris Johnson

- Pledges to raise the tax threshold for the higher rate to £80,000 (rather than the current £50,000). - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying income tax. - Will review “unhealthy food taxes” such as sugar tax on soft drinks.


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to increase defence spending by £15bn over the next five years. - Promises to keep free TV licenses for the over-75s. - Wants to build 1.5 million homes and create a “right to own” scheme for young people. - Backs both HS2 and a third runway at Heathrow.

Boris Johnson

- Pledges more money for public sector workers and wants to increase the National Living Wage. - Will “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers by 2022. - Promises to maintain spending 0.7% of GDP on Foreign Aid. - Wants to review the HS2 train project. - Pledges full fibre broadband in every home by 2025.

Health and social care

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Promises more funding for social care. - Wants to introduce an opt out insurance system to fund future care, similar to the way pensions work. - Wants to target manufacturers of unhealthy foods to make them cut the sugar content. - Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

Boris Johnson

- Rules out a pay-for-access NHS, saying it would remain "free to everybody at the point of use" under his leadership. - Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. - Plans to give public sector workers a "fair" pay rise, according to supporter Health Secretary Matt Hancock. - Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party "national consensus".


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Pledges to write off tuition fees for young entrepreneurs who start a new business and employ more than 10 people for five years. - Wants to reduce interest rates on student debt repayments. - Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession. - Wants to abolish illiteracy.

Boris Johnson

- Wants to raise per-pupil spending in primary and secondary schools, with a minimum of £5,000 for each student in the latter. - Wants to look at lowering the interest rate on student debts.

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