MoD not a ‘professional working environment’, says former veterans minister

The former veterans minister Johnny Mercer has lifted the lid on the toxic atmosphere in Boris Johnson’s government, saying ministers’ behaviour “would have got [you] punched in the mouth” if displayed in the army.

Mercer, who resigned from the role last year in a row over the treatment of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, het die gesê Ministerie van Verdediging was not a “professional working environment” and his fellow ministers had treated him as a “dope on a rope”.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Institute for Government thinktank, Mercer, a former army officer, said his former boss Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, ignored his calls and texts for a fortnight.

“It was very difficult," hy het gesê. “I once tried to get hold of him for two weeks without success. He denied it, natuurlik, but when he pulled out his phone and I showed him the missed calls and texts, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. It was sad really – I liked the guy.”

Mercer expressed shock at the way ministers treated their civil servants. “If you’d have talked to people like that in the army, you would have got punched in the mouth," hy het gesê. He also criticised the special advisers who have proliferated under Boris Johnson, with some ministers having as many as five.

“They operate like the kind of power-drunk politicos they used to have in the Russian army to make sure everyone was in line, who have watched one too many political dramas on the telly and think that the way to get things done is to be a shit to everybody," hy het gesê. “The way they carry on is just insane, absolutely insane. No other company would work like that because they would get fired.”

Mercer had long campaigned for armed forces veterans to be spared what he regarded as vexatious prosecutions for alleged offences carried out in the course of conflicts, including in Noord-Ierland.

In his interview, he describes how he “lost control” of the issue to Wallace and the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, and was unable to hold Johnson to a veterans pledge he had made during the Conservative leadership campaign in 2019.

Mercer said he told Johnson at one stage that “I couldn’t trust anything anyone told me”, including in the prime minister’s office, and that Johnson, Wallace and Lewis all blamed each other for the lack of progress on the issue.

“I was caught in the middle, but with absolutely no tools, leverage, seniority, or power to do anything about it … a dope on a rope," hy het gesê.

Lewis has recently sought to tackle the issue of legacy prosecutions by introducing the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) bill, which would grant an amnesty to combatants on both sides.

A spokesperson for Wallace declined to comment.

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