Theresa May has blocked legislation protecting soldiers from prosecution for alleged offences during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The prime minister said a consultation document dealing with the legacy of the decades-long conflict should not mention amnesties or a statute of limitations, The Sunday Telegraph reports.
Last week, defence secretary Penny Mordaunt outlined legislation ending repeated investigations into alleged offences committed in the course of duty abroad more than 10 years ago.
But it emerged any new measures would not apply to cases arising in Northern Ireland.
A Number 10 source told Sky News: We cannot countenance a proposal where amnesties would be provided to terrorists.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who served in Northern Ireland, confirmed that Mrs May was unwilling to give an amnesty to armed forces personnel, explaining that, under international law, it would have been necessary to offer the same amnesty to former terrorists.
Mr Ellwood told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: I’m very conscious, as we move through a reconciliation process, that we’re able to get to the bottom of what’s been perhaps not been the best process in looking at some of those outstanding issues that needed to be closed down, that were part of that Stormont process.
Unfortunately it’s not been done in the best way, the Northern Ireland Secretary is aware of that. She has organised a consultation to see how it can be improved.
But as Number 10… has responded to this story to say you can’t give an amnesty just to armed forces personnel, you’d have to share that with terrorists as well.
(Mrs May) was unwilling to do that. That’s international law. That’s what we have to abide by.
The memorandum which The Sunday Telegraph says details Mrs May’s objections is dated March 2018 and was said to have been written by her assistant private secretary.
Among those who have said Northern Ireland should be included in any amnesty is Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who described the memorandum as a sucker punch, saying he found the comments genuinely appalling.
He said in an article for The Sunday Telegraph on Sunday: That troops, uniformed and sent by the Crown to an unpopular, difficult and bloody war, should not have the government, at least starting, on their side is totally unacceptable.
Mr Mercer later told Sky News: To hear that the prime minister’s been saying one thing in public and then another in private is pretty devastating.
The Plymouth Moor View MP added: Calling for a blanket amnesty is not what veterans want, it’s not what I want. Calling for a statute of limitations is not possible because if there is new and compelling evidence then you have to prosecute, you have to uphold the rule of law.
He said there was an answer somewhere in the middle that would give veterans piece of mind and ensure there is not an endless chase to their graves.
Some of those affected by the Troubles, in which thousands of people died before the Good Friday Agreement ushered in a ceasefire in the 1990s, have been keen to see British troops responsible for the deaths of civilians punished.
There was disappointment after it emerged one former British soldier would be charged with murder over the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry out of the 17 who were referred to during an inquiry into the incident.
The memorandum was sent to the Northern Ireland Office and Ministry of Defence as ministers and officials were drawing up a consultation document on addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.
It stated: The Prime Minister has decided that the consultation document should not contain specific reference to a ‘statute of limitations’ or ‘amnesties’, in line with government policy.
The Ministry of Defence should work closely with the Northern Ireland office to ensure that their veterans package offers equal, rather than preferential, treatment relative to other groups or individuals affected by this consultation.
On Wednesday, Ms Mordaunt said: It is high time that we change the system and provide the right legal protections to make sure the decisions our service personnel take in the battlefield will not lead to repeated or unfair investigations down the line.
But later, during a conference at the Royal United Services Institute, she said: I do think it (additional protection) should cover Northern Ireland… This is not going to be resolved overnight. It is a priority of mine, according to The Daily Telegraph.
A government spokesperson said: The Ministry of Defence have proposed legislation to provide better support and stronger legal protections for serving and former personnel facing investigation over alleged historical offences overseas.
This will ensure veterans are not subject to repeated investigations many years after the events in question where there is no new evidence.
A separate consultation has been run by Northern Ireland Office on how to deal with the past in Northern Ireland, and the conclusion of that will be announced as soon as possible.