New British Prime Minister Announces First Ever Office of Veterans’ Affairs

Photograph by Cpl Paul Jarvis/MOD Open Government Licence v1.0
Photograph by Cpl Paul Jarvis/MOD Open Government Licence v1.0

Now that Boris Johnson has assumed the mantle of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he is wasting no time in working on his priorities.

Although the Conservative politician only stepped into the role this month, he has already formed the country’s first office dedicated to veterans’ affairs.

Johnny Mercer, a Tory MP, has been chosen to lead the new office. Johnson has given Johnson specific instructions to end the ongoing investigations into soldiers.

Mercer’s other duties are to oversee all veterans’ issues in the government which includes housing, mental health support, and employment opportunities.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. OGL 3
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. OGL 3

Johnson has also stated that he wants to make the ‘military covenant’ law. This will give soldiers the ability to sue the government if they are treated unfairly. Johnson has been clear on his position for veterans, saying earlier in the month that he would assign a minister with special responsibilities for veterans.

Mercer will be running the office with Paymaster General Oliver Dowden. Mercer stated that this is the first time an office will be able to pull all functions of government to make sure veterans receive the care they deserve after serving their country.

Mercer said that he had entered the Parliament specifically to repair the relationship between the British government and the veterans of Great Britain.

Mercer had been offered the position of a parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence. He turned it down because he did not feel it met the pledge he had made. Johnson then created the new role which will provide a place for the veterans minister to sit in Johnson’s cabinet.

Mercer is himself a veteran having served mostly with the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery during three tours of Afghanistan. Before retiring from the service, he was attached to a Special Forces group and helped train Afghan forces.

In 2016, he initiated a Commons defense committee into the spurious hounding of the troops.

He has worked for British veterans ever since. Among those in the military, Mercer has a very good reputation.

Brian Wood is a recipient of the military cross. He feels that Mercer is a good fit for the role since Mercer’s tireless campaigning for the Iraq Historical Allegations Team.

The United States has a veterans’ affairs department at the federal level but the British have always resisted the idea. Mark Lanister floated the idea in 2016 of having the government take responsibility for the care of its veterans.

Johnson is looking to have the government rebuild its relationship with the military. He is planning to introduce laws to prevent the prosecutions they are facing which he called “abhorrent.”

One of Johnson’s campaign promises was to introduce legislation in his first Parliament with an aim of protecting veterans from investigations and false claims.

There are veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who are still facing investigations into their actions during battle. This has continued in spite of multiple promises from politicians to stop the practice.

A former Royal Navy Admiral expressed appreciation for the new office but is waiting to see if it actually protects veterans from the investigations currently happening. He feels it will be a big success if the government finally achieves this after years of failed promises.

Challenger 2 OGL v1.0

The government is going to need to look into how to handle investigations concerning the Troubles. This has the potential to affect hundreds of veterans in Northern Ireland.

Johnson has yet to commit to passing laws specific to the Troubles in spite of calls from the military to protect veterans who served during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Johnson has issued a statement that indicated he understood the importance of such legislation but the issue is still being considered among his advisors and a clear course of action has not been determined in the matter.

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Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE