Gurkhas fight it out in British parliament

April 29th, 2009 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown London, April 29 (IANS) Gurkhas, famous fighters on the battle field, are preparing for a clash that could end with a humiliating defeat for the British government in the country’s parliament Wednesday.
British ministers, who are seeking to curtail the rights of Gurkha ex-servicemen to settle down in Britain, could face a cross-party showdown in a parliamentary vote.

Although the vote is not binding, commentators said it would be an embarrassment to Prime Minister Gordon Brown if enough rebels from the ruling Labour party joined the opposition to reject the controversial government plans.

The opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, who already back the high-profile Gurkha campaign for residency rights, are set to be joined by dozens of Labour MPs.

The British government was pilloried last week after coming up with new rules that set severe conditions on Gurkhas who have served in the British army and want to settle down in Britain.

The government said Gurkha ex-servicemen who want to live in Britain must prove they have close family in Britain, have served at least 20 years, been wounded in battle or won gallantry medals.

Campaigners said they were outraged, pointing out Gurkhas have fought for Britain for 200 years and between 40,000 and 50,000 of them have been killed defending British interests.

Labour MP Martin Salter, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gurkhas’ Rights, denounced the “completely disgraceful decision”.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that ministers should “do the honourable thing” and admit the Gurkhas.

“It is indisputable that the UK owes an historic debt of gratitude to the Gurkhas for their brave, loyal and distinguished service in the defence of this country.”

In a show or solidarity, Tory leader David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat counterpart Nick Clegg were to hold talks with protesters ahead of the vote.

Clegg, who has called for the vote, said: “It’s a very simple principle. If you’re prepared to die for a country, you should be allowed to settle in it.”

“This is a Prime Minister who once said he had a moral compass. He’s got to find it quickly and do the right thing,” Clegg added.

The government says that at the moment only those Gurkhas who retired after 1997, when their base was shifted from Hong Kong to Britain, are allowed to settle unconditionally in Britain with their families.

Although a British High Court last year ruled the exclusion policy as unlawful, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said last week granting all ex-soldiers the same rights could mean opening the borders to up to 100,000 Gurkhas.

Campaigners dispute the figures.

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