Brown: I have a "great deal of sympathy and support" for the Gurkhas
22nd May 2009: In a major victory for some 36,000 Gurkhas, the British Government has announced that those veterans, who retired before July 1997 from the army, will be allowed to settle down in the UK.
Announcing the new policy in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years’ service will be allowed to settle in the UK.
The Gurkhas had served the UK "with great courage, sacrifice and distinction and they continue to make a vital and valued contribution to our operations around the world", she said, adding that they were expecting to welcome 10,000 to 15,000 applications from Gurkhas over the next two years.
The British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas is currently 3,800-strong and provides around three per cent of the Army’s strength and eight per cent of the Infantry.
Under the new policy, some 36,000 Gurkhas who left before 1997, will be allowed to settle in the UK with their spouses and dependent children under 18.
Some 1,400 outstanding applications for settlement currently before the UK Border Agency would be processed on the basis of the new policy "as a matter of urgency" before 11 June, Smith said.
Smith told MPs she was "proud to offer this country’s welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas".
This announcement, which came after a high-profile campaign by actress Joanna Lumley and other supporters of Gurkha rights, were greeted by cheers and victory cries by the campaigners gathered outside the British Parliament.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has "made a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave," Lumley, who has spearheaded the campaign for more rights for Gurkha veterans, said.
In her statement, the Home Secretary said "I’m delighted that we have now been able to agree- across government, across the House and with the Gurkhas’ representatives- new settlement rights that all those who have served us so well, so highly deserve".
Mr. Brown told the House of Commons that he had a "great deal of sympathy and support" for the Gurkhas.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister suffered a humiliating Commons defeat when Labour MPs voted with Opposition to condemn immigration rules that limit the number of Gurkha pensioners allowed to settle here.
The vote followed a growing chorus of public and political anger against government refusals to allow Gurkhas who retired before 1997 to settle in Britain. The High Court has also ruled in favour of Gurkhas in their right to settle here.
Ms. Smith also said in the statement: "We respect the will of the House of Commons on this issue and that is why I have now announced a new policy, the basis of which we have worked on with the Home Affairs Select Committee and Gurkha representatives".
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said the U-turn by the government was a "great victory for a well-run campaign, that has publicly embarrassed ministers". He said it was a shame that the government had to be dragged "kicking and screaming" to the decision.
Welcoming the announcement, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said "the prime minister and the minister have finally listened to the will of this House and the will of the British public".
Kevan Jones, Minister for Veterans said: "The British Army and the Ministry of Defence are determined to do all that we can to uphold our ongoing commitment to the welfare of former Gurkhas, whether in Nepal or the UK".
"We value greatly the bravery, commitment and dedication which they have shown over many years and continue to demonstrate on operations today," Jones said.