Johnson faces backlash against government proposal for Troubles amnesty

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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Peace in Northern Ireland is fragile and cannot afford Boris Johnson’s failure, Keir Starmer has declared. Writing exclusively for LabourList, he launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister’s approach to the peace process, arguing that Johnson has “put his own narrow interest” ahead of people and communities. “It’s wrong to sign a treaty and now seem to want to disavow it,” Starmer writes. “It’s wrong to be doing nothing to calm tensions especially at this most tense point of the calendar. And it’s wrong to propose an amnesty law that would deny justice for victims.”

His comments come ahead of a statement from Brandon Lewis this afternoon, in which the minister will outline plans to introduce a statute of limitations to end pre-1998 prosecutions related to the Troubles, effectively granting an amnesty to both British troops and Provisional IRA members. The government is facing fierce opposition on the plan from MPs across the Commons, which would see more than 1,000 investigations not already in the courts abandoned. The proposal satisfies neither those who want to see an end to the so-called “witch-hunt” against British soldiers nor the victims of violence in both Northern Ireland and Britain.

Labour has branded the amnesty “abhorrent”. “This government gave victims their word: they would deliver the proper investigations denied to victims and their families for so long,” Louise Haigh said. “To tear up that pledge would be insulting, and to do so without the faintest hint of consultation with those who lost loved ones would be staggeringly insensitive.” Victims of the 1974 Birmingham IRA pub bombings have written to the PM, asking when the government lost “all sight of its moral, ethical and judicial backbone”. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP used parliamentary privilege yesterday to name ‘Soldier F’, a serviceperson accused of murdering two people and attempting to murder five on Bloody Sunday, to criticise the move to drop investigations. Theresa May rejected a similar proposal for an amnesty when she was Prime Minister, and former Tory veterans minister Johnny Mercer has also criticised the plan: “We should not cut off pathways to justice where evidence exists, simply because of time passed. It would be wrong to do so.”

Johnson therefore faces another bitter row with the potential for a significant Tory rebellion, just one day after he narrowly avoided defeat on his cuts to overseas aid spending. 24 Conservative backbenchers voted against the government motion yesterday, which effectively ensured that the reduction in aid from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5% (a drop of around £4bn) will continue indefinitely. Spending will now return to 0.7% only when the country is no longer borrowing to fund day-to-day needs and the underlying level of public debt is falling – conditions met just once in the past 20 years. As Starmer told MPs: “Anyone voting tonight pretending to themselves it will be temporary – they are not looking at the facts.”

Elsewhere, Labour figures led by Stephen Kinnock MP are launching ‘Renaissance’. The new group aims to help the party “make a serious effort to reconnect” with voters it has lost rather than “retreat to its comfort zone and drift to irrelevance”. It will work to rebuild support in constituencies lost in 2019, concentrating on the more than 100 Labour target seats outside of major cities and rejecting a ‘Blue Wall’ strategy focused on Remain-leaning Conservative areas in the South of England. Kinnock today warned that Labour is at a “crossroads”, adding: “Thankfully, Keir Starmer is committed to re-establishing Labour as a whole nation party, and Renaissance is here to help him to do so.” Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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