Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gurkhas to get right to settle in the UK.

It really is a sign that Gordon Brown lacks a populist touch that this row has been allowed to rumble on for as long as it has before Brown and his party have come around and decided to do the right thing.

Gurkha veterans who have served four years with the historic regiment will be told tomorrow that they will be allowed to settle in the UK. The home secretary is expected to reverse government guidance issued last month that made the obstacles to entry almost insurmountable for ordinary Gurkha soldiers traditionally recruited from Nepal.

It is understood that Jacqui Smith will announce rules that will allow entry into the UK for Gurkhas previously excluded because they retired from the regiment before 1997, provided they have fought for the British army for at least four years.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, wrote to the prime minister on Tuesday saying the government should immediately approve the 1,400 outstanding applications for settlement, whether they meet new criteria established by the Home Office or not.

In a reprimand to the government, Vaz said: "The figure of 100,000 ex-Gurkhas including dependants publicly cited by the government as likely to take up settlement is clearly much overblown."

The prospective turnaround in policy came after the Labour government suffered its first big defeat last month by 21 votes, as 27 Labour rebels joined the Tories and Liberal Democrats in demanding equal residency rights for all Gurkha soldiers after a high-profile public campaign.

Perhaps Brown thought that this would be seen by the UK public as an immigration issue, and if he did he was being dumb, as the vast majority of people in the UK, of every political persuasion, can recognise that, if someone risks their life fighting for the UK, then they ought to automatically have the right to live here.

It has staggered me that the Labour party have been so slow to recognise this. It's another open goal which Brown has missed.

In an indication of the imminent policy volte face, Gordon Brown said at prime minister's questions that he had a "great deal of sympathy and support" for Gurkhas who wished to live in the UK. He said: "I believe it is possible for us to honour our commitments to the Gurkhas and to do so in a way that protects the public finances. That will be part of the announcement that is made tomorrow."
Thank God. The real tragedy is that it took him so long to do the right thing, as this allowed the Tories, once again, to get in front of him on an issue which carried huge public support.

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