Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is understood to have raised concerns in the UK Cabinet that soldiers who served in Northern Ireland might not have enough protections under proposals to investigate unsolved Troubles killings.
The BBC reported that there had been a “spat” in the cabinet over the issue. Another minister who expressed worries said there had not been a huge argument, but that it had been made clear to the government that it had to do more to make sure that former military personnel weren’t unfairly targeted, or dragged through the courts. One cabinet source told the BBC: “This has got catastrophe written all over it for the government and will carry very little sympathy with the majority of the British public who won’t be able to get their heads round us not getting behind our veterans.”
The Daily Mail claimed Mr Williamson told Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley that former soldiers now face a “witch-hunt” unless she reverses her decision, while BBC NI Political Editor Mark Devenport said she encountered an “ambush” at the cabinet meeting. Introducing a new “Historical Investigations Unit” was a major part of the 2014 Stormont House agreement. It was agreed then to create a new independent body to deal with killings where there had been no prosecutions.
But several ministers told colleagues on Tuesday that the proposal was unacceptable in its current form, the BBC reported. But others familiar with the process said that the new HIU would “end the current witch hunt” where veterans and former police officers are already hit disproportionately, providing a new system that is fair, independent and proportionate. It is hoped the proposed unit would be able to investigate terrorist killings more vigorously than under the current piecemeal system. The plan was also included in the Tories’ Northern Irish election manifesto. A source said: “We want to find a way forward and we believe that the right way is to consult on this. Leaving the status quo as it exists is to let down our armed forces, as the current system it hits our armed forces disproportionately.”