Gurkhas win fight to stay in UK
Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley sealed the deal with immigration minister Phil Woolas with a kiss
The Gurkhas have won their battle with the British Government for their automatic right of residence in the United Kingdom to be extended to those soldiers who retired before 1997 and the deal was sealed with a kiss between the Gurkha campaigners' figurehead Joanna Lumley, and the Home Office immigration minister Phil Woolas - according to the actress.
Lumley said today Prime Minister Gordon Brown was "a brave man who has made a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave". She added: "This is the welcome we have always longed to give."
Since 2004, members of the Gurkhas, a British Army brigade recruited from Nepal - a non-Commonwealth country - have been allowed to settle in Britain as long as they had served for at least four years.
However, this right did not extend to those who had left the Gurkhas before 1997, when the brigade's base was moved from Hong Kong to Kent. The government argued that this was because Gurkhas based in Hong Kong did not have firm links to Britain: around 36,000 Gurkhas who left before 1997 had already been denied UK residency.
The Government expects up to 15,000 applications from Gurkhas within 2 years
However, after the Labour government suffered a surprise defeat on the issue in a Commons vote brought by the Liberal Democrats last month, the accompanying public outcry, channelled expertly in the form of televised confrontations between Lumley and government ministers, forced the prime minister to rethink.
In a statement to the House of Commons today, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "I am proud to be able to offer this country's welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas." She said the government expects 10,000-15,000 applications from Gurkhas over the next two years. Waiting outside the Houses of Parliament, and listening to Smith's speech on a transistor radio, Lumley and the assembled Gurkha representatives cheered and shouted "Ayo Gurkhali!" - the Gurkhas' famous battle cry.
Conservative MP Ian Duncan Smith told the Commons after the announcement: "Finally, congratulations, they've done the right thing. It's a great day for the House in the midst of all these sleaze inquiries… it's one moment when MPs here can hold their heads up and say: 'This is what we should have been doing every day of the week.'"
Lumley told BBC radio today that the final details of the Gurkha deal had been hammered out between the Gurkha campaign team and civil servants led by Phil Woolas at her London home on Wednesday night over fish and chips and champagne. Lumley thanked Mr Woolas and "then we kissed on the doorstep," said the actress. ·
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