Keir Starmer will not appoint dedicated veterans’ minister sitting in cabinet

Keir Starmer made a promise last month that there would be a veterans’ minister  (AP)
Keir Starmer made a promise last month that there would be a veterans’ minister (AP)

The new Labour government will not appoint a dedicated veterans’ minister to the cabinet, it has been revealed.

On Monday, prime minister Sir Keir Starmer announced 19 new ministerial appointments to his cabinet, which met for the first time at the weekend following Thursday’s landslide general election victory.

No 10 told The Independent that, instead of a separate minister being appointed, defence secretary John Healey would be representing veterans at the top table.

It’s understood that Downing Street will appoint a veterans’ minister outside the cabinet, who will run the Office for Veterans’ Affairs with oversight from Mr Healey.

The minister for veterans’ affairs – a post last occupied by ousted Tory Johnny Mercer – held responsibilities in government including veterans’ issues and Afghan personnel accommodation.

The CEO of the Help for Heroes charity, James Needham, told The Independent he was “disappointed” that there would not be a dedicated veterans’ minister sitting in the cabinet.

The cabinet met for the first time on Saturday after Labour’s landslide general election victory (The Sun/PA)
The cabinet met for the first time on Saturday after Labour’s landslide general election victory (The Sun/PA)

But he added: “We hope John Healey and his team will continue to work with Help for Heroes and other charities to deliver the support our armed forces community deserves.

“We will continue to campaign for a review of the medical discharge process and to end the barriers to fair compensation and benefits for veterans.

“We receive consistent testimony from those we support that these processes are not fair or working properly, and many would be shocked by the way in which our service people and their families are treated.”

Mark Atkinson, director general of the Royal British Legion (RBL), said: “The new government should show by its actions that it is effectively meeting the needs and improving the lives of the armed forces community: serving personnel, veterans, the bereaved and their families.

“We are pleased that the government, in their manifesto, committed to applying the Armed Forces Covenant in law to every part of government, and we look forward to working with ministers across the range of departments that serve our community.

“RBL will seek reassurances that any changes do not signal a reduction in support or priority, but that they will result in improved coordination and delivery for the entire armed forces community.”

The lack of a veterans’ minister sitting in Sir Keir’s cabinet first came to light through a recording of Fred Thomas, the new MP for Plymouth Moor View who is also a veteran, at a hustings event before the election.

Asked if there was going to be a veterans’ minister, Mr Thomas, who was contesting the seat against Mr Mercer, said: “Let me answer very clearly. No, because it hasn’t helped veterans that much.

“So I talk to veterans the whole time, I am one myself, and what is affecting veterans massively – I think we all know this to be true: there is no single issue. It’s the fact that we’re having to pay more. It’s the fact that people can’t get jobs. It’s the fact the economy has tanked.

Johnny Mercer, the last veterans’ minister, took to X to voice his concern over the lack of an appointment (Getty)
Johnny Mercer, the last veterans’ minister, took to X to voice his concern over the lack of an appointment (Getty)

“So when you go out to work, and you do your work and you come back, and life is that much harder.

“You know you’re struggling to put food on the table, [as are] a lot of people in [Plymouth] unfortunately; that is not helped by an Office for Veterans’ Affairs, I’m afraid not.

“So what we need to do is take a more holistic option, and to answer your question, that is what we’re going to do. We’re going to take a more holistic approach to this.”

Mr Mercer, an army veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan, held the post of veterans’ minister from 2022 to 2024.

He claimed that the role helped to deliver programmes including Operation Fortitude, a government-funded hotline that aims to end homelessness among veterans, and Operation Courage, an NHS mental health specialist service.

On X/Twitter, Mr Mercer wrote: “You will note already that, despite his explicit personal promises in the election campaign, Keir Starmer has not appointed a veterans minister to his cabinet. If you understand what veterans need from their government, this matters very much.

“Those now in power, paraded around by Starmer for their various military experiences, must mark themselves on how they too now actually change the lives of those who need them in the serving and veteran community.”