Mark Francois has branded comments made by Jeremy Hunt that equated Northern Ireland veterans with IRA terrorists as “outrageous”.
At a digital hustings last night, Tory leadership hopeful Mr Hunt said there was a need to “treat both sides the same way”.
“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,” he said.
But Mr Francois told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer the comments left him “hopping mad”.
“In other words he is suggesting that we put British army veterans who helped to win the peace in Northern Ireland, without whom there never would have been a Good Friday agreement on a par with alleged IRA terrorists,” he said.
“I think that is ridiculous and I hope this guy is going to withdraw that sometime within the next 24 hours.”
Mr Francois said some alleged IRA terrorists are able to act “above the law” due to letters of comfort written by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair during peace negotiations.
“What is wrong about this is that after the Good Friday agreement, Blair gave many alleged members of the IRA so-called letters of comfort that said you will never be prosecuted,” he said.
“No one who has ever been given one of these letters has successfully been prosecuted.”
He added: “I can tell you a number of Tory MPs have gone up the wall about this.”
Conservative MP James Heappey said: “It's unfortunate that someone who wants to be our next PM should say that our soldiers must be treated the same as IRA murderers."
“To say that we must treat both sides the same is to create an equivalence between terrorists and those who serve in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.”