Ex-minister Johnny Mercer defends comments on 'distrustful, awful environment’ of government

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston says Johnny Mercer was "deeply unhappy" about the prosecution of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland

Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer has defended comments he made earlier, describing Westminster as the "most distrustful, awful environment" he had ever worked in.

Speaking on the ITV Peston show after quitting the UK government, the Conservative MP said: "I think that everyone who works in government will admit that behind the scenes, but clearly they would never say it in public."

He added: "People will often say to you what they think you want to hear or what's going to further their own agenda, rather than what is actually going on in the world, because there's so many different, people are in politics for so many different reasons.

"For me it was always a mechanism to deliver for these people. I will do whatever it takes and I think they deserve it like anybody else."

The Plymouth Moor View MP labelled the decision to sack him via text as "weak", after Mr Mercer told the chief whip he wanted to resign.

He told Peston: "It's a bit of a disaster. It's poor, right. It's poor. It's poor, it's weak, it's embarrassing, but that's the way you know some people operate in Westminster.

"And the reality is a lot of my colleagues would get upset with me for sort of calling it out, but secretly in the corridors they'll all say to me, you know I'll see a colleague crying in a corridor or something, and the way she's been spoken to, in this that and the other, we have to up the standards in politics right, because the country sees it. They see it.

"And we talk about credibility with politicians, right, the reason we don't have that credibility is because we behave in this way. So we need to change, we need to get the ethos and values back into politics, that people will see us and actually think yeah there's a career that I want to aspire to because I'll make a difference."

Mr Mercer expressed disappointment at the lack of progress on legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles from prosecution.

Mr Mercer had been heavily involved in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which was being considered by MPs on Wednesday as it goes through its final stages in Parliament.

The legislation was developed in response to legal claims made after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but does not cover incidents in Northern Ireland.

When asked whose fault it was that legislation he wanted to put in place to protect veterans who served in Ulster hadn't been enacted, he said: "It's clear why it hasn't happened - because the Northern Ireland Office has not brought forward that legislation."

He added: "The reality is, the system has not worked, it has not produced for these people, and as we sit here today, there are two people going to court in Northern Ireland on Monday for offences 50 years ago. "We failed that test and I take responsibility for it. It's not, you know, it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. I tried to do it in the correct way and not ambush anybody, the system does what the system does - but you know I'm not going to play any of those games."