Victory for Lumley in her battle for Gurkhas’ rights
Published 22/05/2009 | 03:47
Gurkha champion Joanna Lumley proclaimed “the Gurkhas are coming home” after the Government finally relented on settlement rights.
The actress hailed the “brave” decision by Prime Minister Gordon Brown after he opened the door to thousands of retired soldiers.
Campaigners reacted with jubilation after the announcement by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that all Gurkha veterans with four years’ service would be allowed to move to the UK.
Surrounded by the heroic Nepalese warriors, Ms Lumley, whose later father was an officer in the Gurkha regiment, led the cheer of “Ayo Gurkhali” — “the Gurkhas are coming”.
Choking back tears she said: “A great injustice has been righted. The Gurkhas are coming home.
“I would like to pay tribute to Gordon Brown the Prime Minister, a brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave.
“This is a fantastic day for my brothers and sisters.
“It is so thrilling to have overcome something which has gone on for so long.
“We knew it would be something good — but this is the best.”
She was informed of the decision at a breakfast meeting with the PM yesterday morning.
It follows a two-year legal and political battle for equal rights for those who retired before 1997, when their base moved from Hong Kong to Kent.
Last month campaigners reacted with fury at Home Office rules which they said would allow only 100 more Gurkhas, mostly officers and medal-winners, to live here, but would exclude ordinary infantrymen.
The tide turned firmly in their favour last month when the Government lost a key House of Commons vote to Labour backbenchers, the Tories and Liberal Democrats.
Despite the result not being binding, ministers were forced to launch a review.
Ms Lumley then cornered Immigration Minister Phil Woolas in a television studio to quiz him about letters sent to Gurkha soldiers appearing to suggest their appeals had been rejected.
Yesterday’s announcement was widely applauded. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, whose party led the Commons campaign said: “I am absolutely thrilled that the Gurkhas have finally been given justice.
“This is a great victory for the Gurkhas and for everyone who has campaigned on their behalf.
“Gordon Brown has finally woken up to the principle that people across Britain understand instinctively: if someone is prepared to die for this country, they must be allowed to live in it.”
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: “First and foremost this case was about basic decency. People from around the world have come to live in this country in the past decade.
“There was never a justification to deny that right to a group of people who have long lived in the nation’s affections, and who have risked and often given their lives for its protection.
“It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts and then through the crowds of Gurkhas before it finally did the right thing.”
Announcing the changes, Ms Smith praised the Gurkhas’ “courage and sacrifice”.
She said: “Generations of Gurkhas have served the United Kingdom with great courage, sacrifice and distinction and they continue to make a vital and valued contribution to our operations around the world.”
The new rules will allow all Gurkhas who retired before 1997 with four years’ service to settle here with their immediate families. Ms Smith said she expected the change to mean up to 15,000 Gurkhas would come to Britain over the next two years.
They would be allowed to bring their partners and children aged under 18, she said. But they would not be given the same pension rights as those who retired after 1997.
Around 1,400 applications still being considered by officials will be processed “as a matter of urgency” by June 11, she said.
Gurkhas who retired after 1997 already have full settlement rights in Britain.
The Brigade of Gurkhas was formed in 1948 from former Indian Army regiments. Campaigners say 50,000 have been killed and 13 have won Victoria Crosses defending Britain.