Gavin Williamson has been slapped down by Downing Street for apparently suggesting IRA terrorists be given an amnesty from prosecution in order to provide the same protection to British soldiers.
The Defence Secretary wrote to Theresa May, urging her to create a “statute of limitations” for offences during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in the wake of new plans to examine criminal cases.
He told the Prime Minister that British soldiers who served in the region from the 1970s to the 1990s should have the “protection they deserve”, adding: “If this means a wider amnesty, so be it.”
However, a Downing Street spokeswoman on Friday said: “We cannot countenance a proposal where amnesties would be provided to terrorists.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and are accountable to it.”
She insisted there was “no support” in the region for a “Northern Ireland-only statute of limitations”, as she launched a public consultation on other proposals to address unresolved issues from the past.
In the letter reported by the Sun, Mr Williamson argued that such a statute was exactly what was needed.
“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.
“It is time to give our veterans the protection they deserve.”
Mr Williamson reacted to the letter on Friday, tweeting: “Bit amazed to see the way this is described.
“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.”