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Victory in Gurkhas battle

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Actress Joanna Lumley
Actress Joanna Lumley

by Chris Denham

Tears and cheers met the news that retired Gurkhas had won their battle to stay in the UK today.

At 12.30pm Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that all Gurkhas who retired before 1997 would have the right to apply for settlement.

It had been coming - when actress Joanna Lumley and Folkestone councillor Peter Carroll had an early-morning meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown they left Downing Street wreathed in smiles but unable to say what they knew.

But when it came the sound was deafening. Folkestone councillor Lynne Beaumont, who is part of the Gurkha Justice Campaign, said: "It is fantastic. There are lots of cheers and smiling faces, although there is also lots of disbelief. We are going back to Number 10 this afternoon with the two Victoria Cross holders.

"It has taken a brave Prime Minister to make a brave decision for some very brave men."

Announcing the changes in the law to Parliament, Jacqui Smith said: "All former Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and who have served more than four years may apply for settlement in the UK. It will take time for former Gurkhas and their families to make their applications and I welcome the campaigners offer to set up a resettlement board to help them integrate into British life.

"On the basis of 10,000 to 15,000 applications I expect to welcome those applicants over the course of the next two years. I am making it clear that there should be no time llimit on those applications and they should be entitled to bring their spouses and their children under the age of 18 with them.

"This guidance reflects the unique service to the UK by the Brigade of Gurkhas and it is offered to them on an exceptional bases. There is no read-across between settlement rights and pensions.

"The question of equal Gurkha pensions should not be conflated with the question of settlement."

She explained that the policy would be back-dated to cover those cases still going through the system and that there would always be a dsitinction between those who retired before 1997 - when the Brigade of Gurkhas came to the UK from Hong Kong.

The Home Secretary finished: "I am sure that all who do come here will make the most of the opportunity of working and living in the UK."

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