JEREMY Hunt was forced to issue a grovelling apology to Northern Ireland veterans yesterday after saying they should be treated “the same” as IRA terrorists.
Ex-servicemen and Tory MPs accused the PM hopeful of being “in thrall to Sinn Fein” and said he should never be allowed to enter No10.
Jeremy Hunt apologised after comparing Northern Ireland veterans to IRA terrorists[/caption]
The DUP complained about the comments and told him to “revise his position”.
The Foreign Secretary made the controversial remarks in a digital leadership hustings on Wednesday night.
He said: “The main thing and I want to be honest about this, you know, the peace in Northern Ireland was hard won and under the Belfast/Good
Friday Agreement, there is a need to treat both sides in the same way, however angry we may have felt about what happened.”
But after the furious backlash Mr Hunt’s spokesman issued a statement clarifying his remarks.
A spokesperson said: “Jeremy again set out his strong desire to resolve the injustice of historic prosecutions faced by our brave veterans.
“He has always been totally clear there is no moral equivalence between the actions of terrorists who seek to kill and maim, and soldiers who acted to promote peace and protect the public.”
But it failed to stem the tide of anger from Tories.
Conservative MP and ex-soldier James Heappey fumed: “Nobody would ever claim that soldiers are above the law, indeed we should hold them to a higher standard and they expect that we do so.
Jeremy Hunt should apologise and make clear that under his leadership these vexatious politically motivated investigations will stop immediately
James Heappey, Conservative MP and ex-soldier
“But to say that we must treat both sides the same is unacceptable to veterans and serving soldiers, sailors and airmen across the country.
“By default that creates an equivalence between the work we do, or have done, in the service of our country and the terrorists who we’ve been sent to defeat.
“Jeremy Hunt should apologise and make clear that under his leadership these vexatious politically motivated investigations will stop immediately.”
Another MP said it was further proof that Mr Hunt was the “continuity May” candidate following revelations last month after Mrs May blocked a new law that would have protected British veterans who served during the Troubles.
Robin Horsfall, a British army veteran of the Iranian Embassy siege, said the remarks were “one of the most disgraceful statements that I have ever heard from a member of the Conservative party.”
In a furious rant that went viral among veterans’ Facebook groups, he stormed: “How can the people of this country expect a leader to equate our troops to people who have gone out and murdered and bombed over 30 years, injuring and wounding over 50,000 people, murdering more than 6,000 members of the security services?
‘WE DO NOT WANT ANOTHER THERESA MAY IN CHARGE’
“If I read their names out now it would take two hours just to read out the names of the dead security forces people.
“And this person who is running for leadership of Conservative party and leadership of this country thinks he’s going to be able to send people to war and then equate them with terrorists and the people who they’re fighting.
“If you think this person is going to make a good leader then you’ve got a serious serious problem. We need a leader who is going to go out there and support our troops.
“If our leaders are going to send our troops to war, they need to know that their back is covered.
“Jeremy Hunt will not cover the backs of our soldiers, he’s made it clear. We do not want another Theresa May in charge.”
He added: “We do not want somebody who is in thrall to Sinn Fein out there speaking on our behalf.
“Soldiers who are serving today need to know their back is covered.
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“Soldiers who are serving in the future will need to know their back is covered.
“And the only way to prove that is to protect the people that have served in the past.
“The veterans of Northern Ireland do not deserve this injustice and we do not need somebody like Jeremy Hunt in charge of this country.”
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