A former defence minister has described Boris Johnson’s government as a “cesspit” and the “most distrustful, awful environment” that he has ever worked in.
A day after quitting his job, Johnny Mercer launched an extraordinary attack on Johnson and fellow ministers, accusing them of being “cowards” for backtracking on promises to end “vexatious historical investigations” of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
In an interview on Times Radio, the former minister said he quit because he had been unable to deliver on the promise, originally made by Johnson during his leadership campaign in the summer of 2019.
A clearly angry Mercer, a former army captain, said his resignation was an act of personal accountability – and sought to contrast his conduct with colleagues who remained in government.
“This is the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in, in government. Almost nobody tells the truth is what I’ve worked out over the last 36 hours.
“And, you know, I don’t think anyone really can get on their high horse about trust and ethics and all the rest of it in politics, because as far as I’m concerned, most of it is a bit of a cesspit.”
Mercer said that he had wanted to resign at the dispatch box on Wednesday, “ultimately because I’m accountable, and not make a big song and dance about it,” but had been forced to quit by the chief whip following a string of leaks about his departure.
“I think it’s pretty clear that not everyone tells the truth up here do they. I mean, I told people, I was resigning as a courtesy to government. You know, three hours later, it’s in the press. And, of course, they all denied they ever leaked it,” he said.
In response to Mercer’s resignation, Johnson said he would be “bringing forward” the legislation to end prosecutions “in due course”.
Insiders, however, said they could not confirm whether a bill would be listed in next month’s Queen’s speech, reflecting the complexity of a problem that evokes strong feelings across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland.
The new measures are unpopular with the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, who say dozens of civilian deaths involving British soldiers have not been properly investigated after nearly 50 years.