Boris Johnson has suffered a huge House of Lords defeat over his bid to restrict British troops being prosecuted for war crimes.

Peers voted 333-228 to exclude torture and genocide from a new Bill designed to protect the Armed Forces from historic probes.

Tory ministers claim the Overseas Operations Bill, which MPs have already approved, will be a vital tool to stop “ambulance-chasing” lawyers pursing false claims against UK soldiers.

It will introduce a “statutory presumption against prosecution” of British troops over incidents abroad more than five years ago.

But peers and Amnesty International warned genocide and torture were among the crimes set to be given special protection.

Peers backed an amendment by Labour ’s Lord Robertson, an ex-Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary-General, to strip out the war crimes from a list of offences covered by the Bill.

The Bill is designed to stop false claims against brave British troops - but peers warn it would have a more sinister side-effect
The Bill is designed to stop false claims against brave British troops - but peers warn it would have a more sinister side-effect

Lord Robertson said the Bill in its current form was “outrageous” and “apparently legitimising torture”.

He told the House of Lords: “For the first time in the history of British law, we would be creating a two-tier justice system where troops acting for us abroad would be treated differently from other civilians in society.”

He added: “By saying there is a presumption against prosecution for the most serious of all crimes - genocide, crimes against humanity and torture - this Bill undermines some of the most basic international legal standards for which this nation was renowned.”

Tory minister Baroness Goldie insisted a “presumption against prosecution” was not the same as an “amnesty”.

She said: “It goes without saying that of course we shall take offences such as war crimes and torture extremely seriously.”

But she claimed the amendment would “undermine the reassurance we are seeking to give” to soldiers that they will be protected from unfair historic investigations.

The amendment is set to pass back to the Commons for consideration by MPs.

It was one of three Lords defeats of the government over the controversial Bill.

Peers also backed removing a six-year time limit on service personnel bringing civil claims against the Ministry of Defence by 300 votes to 225.

And they backed 308-249 a bid to prevent military personnel facing delayed and repeated investigations into allegations from when they were on deployment abroad.

It came after Lib Dem peer Lord Thomas complained the Bill “does not directly address the scandal of delayed investigations and reinvestigations of service personnel”.

Labour’s Lord Robertson added: ““It does actual harm to those we seek to protect

“At best it would protect only 1% of prosecutions but it would not prevent seemingly endless investigations.”

But Baroness Goldie insisted the Bill provided an appropriate balance between victims' rights and fair protection for service personnel.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen hailed the Lords votes, saying: “The Overseas Operations Bill would be a huge stain on the UK’s international reputation, it would end total opposition to torture, and it’s a hugely welcome that the Lords have made this principled stand.

“MPs should reflect on this defeat and drop the Bill all together when it returns to the Commons.

“Yet again it has fallen to the Lords to act as the UK’s moral compass.

“Granting troops a licence to torture would be an enduring disgrace for the UK and would set a very dangerous international precedent.”