How the Gurkhas' victory was sealed with a kiss from Lumley
They had held a vigil at Westminster for weeks, protesting against what they saw us betrayal by the British government. Yesterday the Gurkhas celebrated at a Downing Street garden party after winning the historic right for veterans to settle in this country.
The Government's effective surrender on the issue in the face of a hugely popular campaign came in a Commons statement by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith yesterday afternoon. A little later, surrounded by more than 100 former soldiers the Prime Minister talked of his "great privilege" in welcoming the "bravest of all" to Britain.
Gordon Brown also paid tribute to the actress Joanna Lumley who has been the high-profile public face in the fight for Gurkha rights. He said: " She has been very persuasive and she has charmed not only the Cabinet, but the whole country."
One of those Ms Lumley apparently "charmed" was immigration minister Phil Woolas, whom she "ambushed" in a television interview and wrung from him the concession that the Gurkha settlement policy would be reviewed.
Ms Lumley revealed yesterday that a subsequent rapprochement had included a fish and chips and champagne supper at her London home followed by a goodnight kiss. She said: "I'm pleased to say we kissed on the doorstep, so there we are. A great injustice has been righted. The Gurkhas are coming home.
She added: "I would like to pay tribute to Gordon Brown the Prime Minister, a brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave. This is a fantastic day for my brothers and sisters. It is so thrilling to have overcome something which has gone on for so long. We knew it would be something good – but this is the best."
Some campaigners felt kissing Mr Woolas went way beyond the call of duty, but the veterans said they appreciated the work done by the actress, whose father served with the Gurkhas, in securing their victory. Mohan Bahadur Rai, who had been in the Army for 11 years, said: "We went through some very difficult times on this, and Miss Joanna was always there with us, so we want to thank her for her help. We feel this has been a great achievement for everyone."
Samser Jang Khastri, 58, who lost a foot after stepping on a landmine in Bosnia in 1997 said yesterday's decision has made "all my pain worthwhile. I have been unable to work since the accident and live on £40 housing benefit in a room in north London. But none of that matters. Today is all that matters for the Gurkhas. We are so pleased and meeting the Prime Minister has made me more proud than I have ever felt".
Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg, whose Commons motion led directly to the U-turn, said: "Gordon Brown has finally woken up to the principle that people across Britain understand instinctively: if someone is prepared to die for this country, they must be allowed to live in it. Tragically this decision will come too late for many of those brave Gurkhas who have been waiting so long to see justice done. Gordon Brown's claim of a "moral compass" rings hollow when, on every issue from Gurkhas to expenses, he has to be dragged every inch of the way towards doing the right thing."
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