‘Defend our veterans’ Boris warned not to sell-out armed forces over Northern Ireland deal

He claimed the deal could mean “a very bright future” for the province after ending three years of political deadlock. But some MPs were concerned about small print of the deal guaranteeing probes into “legacy issues” from the Troubles within 100 days. Former Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois said: “It is a very good thing that the Northern Ireland executive has been re-established after three years and this will in no doubt be to the advantage of the people of Northern Ireland.

“However, the Government promised in its manifesto to legislate to defend Veterans from malicious prosecutions and it would be completely unacceptable if the desire of NIO officials to re-establish the executive led to selling our veterans down the river in some Faustian pact.

“We must defend those who defended us.”

Tory MPs are concerned that the deal’s commitment to resolving “legacy issues” could conflict with the party’s general election commitment to protect former Armed Services personnel from “vexatious” legal cases dating back decades.

Whitehall insiders yesterday said ministers and officials were preparing legislative proposals designed to meet the commitments of both the manifesto and the new power-sharing agreement.

A Government source said: “Precisely what it looks like is something that is being worked on by the Ministry of Defence, Northern Ireland Office and us to make sure it meets both sets of commitments. 

“I’m not pretending it is an easy bit of work but we are fully aware of what needs to be done.”

The source added: “I am not pretending this is easy, it is not. We have two different commitments and we need to work our way through them. There’s no stepping back from anything in the manifesto.”

Mr Johnson held talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar and his Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at Stormont before meeting First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Hailing the new deal, the Prime Minister said: “Never mind the hand of history on my shoulder – I see the hand of the future beckoning us all forward.

“And I hope that with goodwill and compromise and hard work on all sides it will be a very bright future indeed.”

He insisted he stood by the manifesto pledge to protect armed forces veterans from the 30-year conflict from unfair prosecutions without new evidence coming forward.

He said the Northern Irish political parties had done a good job balancing that with giving confidence to victims of violence who were seeking answers.

The Prime Minister said there could be “no repetition” of the so-called “cash for ash” scandal over the renewable heat incentive which led to the collapse of powersharing.

“It is vital that public spending in Northern Ireland is properly invigilated and there is no repetition of that kind of thing,” he said.

The new agreement contained provision for “proper responsibility for the use of public funds”, he said.

Mr Johnson said politicians from all sides had shown leadership in breaking the three-year political impasse.

“What’s so great about today is that Northern Ireland politicians have put aside their differences, stepped up to the plate and shown leadership.

“And that is a fine thing and the right thing and they will be able now to develop what is a very, very promising set of circumstances for Northern Ireland and for its people.”

The PM added: “Never mind the hand of history on my shoulder… I see the hand of the future beckoning us all forward.

“And I hope that with goodwill and compromise and hard work on all sides it will be a very bright future indeed.”

He added: “I just want to say how grateful I am to all the parties, to everybody here in Northern Ireland, for the way they have compromised the way they have worked together to get Stormont up and running once again.

“It’s shown a willingness to trust each other and to set aside differences and I think it’s absolutely commendable and wonderful to see.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Nothing in this agreement stops us from delivering on our manifesto and Queen’s Speech commitments to stop vexatious claims and provide certainty for veterans.

“We have always been clear we would implement the Stormont House agreement in a way that provides certainty for veterans and justice for victims.

“This commitment goes no further than the Queen’s Speech and the manifesto on which the Government was elected, other than providing a timeline for the legislation.

“We will work in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and other Whitehall departments, and in the context of consultation responses, to develop Stormont House proposals in the coming weeks.”

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