Theresa May slaps down Gavin Williamson over 'IRA amnesty' call
Theresa May has slapped down Gavin Williamson after he said he would accept an amnesty for IRA terrorists if former British troops are freed from the threat of prosecution.
The Defence Secretary wrote to the Prime Minister urging her to bring in a so-called "statute of limitations" to stop ex-soldiers being prosecuted for alleged offences that took place up to 50 years ago during the Northern Irish Troubles.
Some 302 killings by British troops during the conflict in Ulster are being reviewed, with some ex-troops who are now in their 70s and 80s being investigated.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, which was leaked to the Sun, Mr Williamson said: "It is clear to me that our veterans need the protection of a statute of limitations in respect of Troubles-related offences.
"If this means a wider amnesty, so be it: in the public mind the effect of the Good Friday Agreement sentencing reforms, the ‘On the Run’ letters which inadvertently led to the failure of the prosecution of John Downey for the 1982 Hyde Park bombings, and the apparent disproportionate focus of the current investigation on security forces amount to a de facto amnesty for terrorists already.”
He added: "It is time to give our veterans the protection they deserve."
But a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Our position on this is pretty clear. We owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law.
"We cannot countenance a a proposal where amnesties would be provided to terrorists."
The spat marks the latest bitter row between Number 10 and Mr Williamson, who has been pushing for a spending boost for the Armed Forces and last month angered Tory colleagues with a threat to bring down Mrs May over the issue.
The Defence Secretary stood by his stance in a late-night tweet, saying he was "amazed to see" media reports on his letter.
He added: “The reality is that I’m prepared to go to any lengths to stop this ridiculous vendetta against former service personnel. Hopefully that is exactly what other colleagues are also pushing for."
A senior Tory source told PoliticsHome that Mr Williamson was “fighting for our veterans and troops who are being hounded by money-chasing lawyers”.
They added: “He is right to stand up for those who served, and protect them from persecution after they risked life and limb for our country.
“We can’t continue to countenance a situation where brave men in their 70s are facing witch hunts for doing the job they were asked to do by their own Government, while the terrorists who tried to kill them walk around free with impunity as is the case now.
“As it stands the playing field is not level and the odds are unfairly stacked against our troops and veterans - that’s why we owe it to them to do everything we can to protect them.”
A number of Tory MPs - who have been increasingly vocal about the work of the Historical Investigations Unit in recent months - also came out in support of the Cabinet minister’s stance, with Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugenhadt saying the plan would help curb "unfair prosecutions".