It’s not often that I have cause to agree with Nick Clegg, but this is one issue where Conservatives and Lib Dems (plus I daresay, more than a sprinkling of Labour supporters) can most certainly concur. The Lib Dem leader raised the treatment of the Nepalese Gurkhas on the floor of the Commons to the Prime Minister at yesterday’s PMQs.
The Ghurkhas, one of the most famous and distinctive regiments within the British Army, have fought for Britain since the Napoleonic wars, including in the Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq. However, current rules do not provide the Gurkhas any right to remain in the UK if they retired from the Armed Forces after 1997.
Unsurprisingly, Brown dismissed any change to the status quo for the veterans, with the Government arguing that such a retrospective change would be too difficult to enforce. However, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears did promise to look “very carefully” at the issue. Some comfort. Frankly, it is a sad day for Britain when fifty retired servicemen feel the need to hand back their military honours to a Government they fought for, yet one which will not recognise and reward that sacrifice.
Several Conservatives have raised this as an example of where Britain is prepared to let in benefit migrants from EU countries, yet will refuse leave to remain for those who have put their lives on the line for the sake of British values. As Clegg himself has argued "I think this is a simply scandalous way to treat some of the most modest, brave and courageous individuals I have ever met". I can only agree.
A Bill has now been tabled in the House of Lords to give the Gurkhas the right to remain, and parity of pension rights as British soldiers. This is a Bill which I hope will receive genuine cross-party support, and that Britain is seen to treat her friends and allies better than Brown and Co. would have it.