The Daily Express has called for the Government to return the £7,500-a-year payment to 300 women who lost it because they remarried.
Only two weeks ago we reported how new veterans’ minister Mr Mercer met a delegation and pledged his support to their cause.
But in a shock announcement the former Army Captain appeared to do a U-turn by declaring it would be “unlawful” to give the widows their money back.
During a parliamentary debate, Mr Mercer announced that it would not be possible to pay it retrospectively.
Instead, as they had remarried before the law changed in 2015, the only way for the widows to get their pensions back would be to divorce their new husbands – and remarry again.
Mary Moreland, War Widows’ Association chairwoman, said: “Johnny Mercer should hang his head in shame. What other government would encourage war widows to divorce and remarry to get their money back?
“We are now facing the real possibility of having to get a barrister to work pro bono to oversee a mass divorce. It’s absurd.”
The WWA and the Daily Express are battling for a change in legislation for the spouses who are fighting for justice.
Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis, who has been a stalwart supporter of the Daily Express crusade, said he was “disappointed” by Mr Mercer’s comments.
The former chairman of the Commons’ defence select committee added: “I am certain ministers have been spooked by Treasury fears this cannot be done without setting a precedent that would cost the country and the MoD millions of pounds.
“I’m convinced with political will, determination and use of clever lawyers in the Government law offices we could come up with a scheme to deal with this.” He called on Chancellor Sajid Javid to step in, adding: “Let him get to grips with this problem and sort it out.”
Speaking last Thursday, Mr Mercer told MPs that the families of the bereaved had made “the greatest sacrifice on the altar of this nation’s continuing freedom”.
He also “paid tribute” to them for their “sacrifice for this nation”.
But he warned: “I also think it is incumbent upon us ministers to be honest about the challenges at hand.
“Reclassifying them or repaying them retrospectively, or backdating the policy is not possible.
“I will, of course, continue to meet with those who are bereaved because I am determined to learn what we can actually do for this cohort.”
But widow Elaine Travis tweeted back: “What we asked for was to be treated fairly.
“We had such faith in you, now we all feel you really don’t care.”
A Government spokesman said: “Since the (2015) reforms were introduced, war widows who now remarry, cohabit or form a civil partnership will retain their entitlement to their pension.”
— to www.express.co.uk