Published: 17:09, 07 May 2009
by Chris Denham
Five Gurkhas who were test cases for the Government's immigration policy were told on Thursday that their cases have failed.
But then, in a bizarre press conference, immigration minister Phil Woolas stood next to actress Joanna Lumley and said the letters were simply explaining the position and were decided under the former rules – since changed.
Gurkhas who retired before 1997 have few of the rights of soldiers who retired after that date, have no leave to remain in the UK and their pensions are worth less.
The fragile unity between campaigners and minister at the press conference soon fractured after solicitor David Enright attacked his stance and it was asked by the press if the Government was being run by Miss Lumley.
She had a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday, followed by a press conference where she said she felt Mr Brown was on her side. A press release from Downing Street later that night then denied any change in stance, leaving nobody sure who to believe.
Events on Thursday began just before 4pm at Millbank, London, when a press conference was called by Miss Lumley following her discovery of the letters. An impromtu meeting was then called after it emerged that Mr Woolas was in the same building for an interview with the BBC. Following that meeting, Miss Lumley opened the press conference late.
Miss Lumley said: "We called the press conference after we had the alarming news that two of the Gurkha Falklands veterans had their applications rejected today. This came as a shock after my meeting with Gordon Brown."
Mr Woolas then said: "The Government is obeying the judgement of the court and I have been able to reassure the campaigners this is not a letter of rejection, it is a letter explaining the situation. We have 1,500 appeals against refusal, 150 of whom are in the country and we have granted 100 of those already."
He then added that all those cases would be sorted by July, when a new policy would be implemented.
It fell to Mr Enright, of the firm Howe and Co, which fought the Gurkhas’ case, to put names to statistics. He said: "These are not statistics, these are men.
"Lance Corporal Gyanendra Rai served this country for 13 years. He was horribly injured by a shell at Bluff Cove [Falklands]. As he lay dying another Gurkha walked past carrying a machine gun. He tripped on the amunition belt as he heard Lance Corpral Rai call out 'I’m not dead yet'.
"As he fell he was saved from another Argentine shell that fell nearby. He was also refused settlement. Everyone knows what is right, except this Government."