Potential Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to end “unfair” prosecutions of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
The Tory leadership contender has joined rival Jeremy Hunt in backing a public campaign supporting UK soldiers who served during the Troubles.
Mr Johnson, speaking from his campaign headquarters today, also reportedly promised to appoint a Veterans Minister if he is chosen to lead Britain.
“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. We must protect people against unfair prosecutions. And I will,” he told the Sun.
“I totally support the principle of cross-Government work to secure world-class care and support for veterans,” he added.
“There will be a minister with particular responsibilities for veterans in Cabinet.”
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 Derry in 1972.
On Monday Tory former defence minister Mark Francois said investigations into veterans who served in Northern Ireland are “a deep insult”.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Francois said: “One group of veterans who undoubtedly deserve our respect are the veterans of Northern Ireland who served for years on Operation Banner to uphold the rule of law against the IRA.
“Yet some of them now face subsequent investigations 50 years on, even including Chelsea Pensioners, while the IRA are scot-free with letters of comfort from Tony Blair.
“Does the Secretary of State agree with me that, as some have recently suggested, to quote ‘treat both sides the same’ is not only patently ludicrous but a deep insult to those veterans without whose courage there never would have been a Good Friday Agreement in the first place?”
Secretary of Defence Penny Mordaunt replied: “Although we have obligations under the Stormont House Agreement and we have to approach these things in different ways, our obligations to our veterans, whether they served on an operation on UK soil or whether they served on an operation overseas, are the same obligations.”
Ms Mordaunt announced plans in May for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated investigations into historical allegations for veterans of overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the proposals, there would be a “presumption against prosecution” in relation to alleged incidents dating back more than 10 years unless there were “exceptional circumstances”.
As it stands, the legislation will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, although in an apparent break with Government policy, Ms Mordaunt has said she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection.
Picture: Conservative party leadership contender Boris Johnson during a Tory leadership hustings at the All Nations Centre in Cardiff. (David Mirzoeff/PA).