Ray of hope for Gurkhas

Brown promises to come up with new solution

LONDON: Campaigning British actress Joanna Lumley said Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to come up with a new solution to allow all ex-Gurkhas to remain in Britain after she held talks with him on Wednesday.

Lumley said she trusted Brown to “do the right thing” for the Nepali veterans who have served with the British army.

The actress, the public face of the campaign to secure settlement rights for the Gurkhas, said Brown told her he would “come up with a new solution by the end of this month.”

A spokesman for Brown was more cautious however, saying the intention was to process all current applications by the end of May but that new proposals were only expected before parliament’s summer break which starts on July 21.

Brown called the meeting almost a week after suffering a parliamentary defeat on the issue and a day after Lumley, who starred in cult comedy Absolutely Fabulous, accused him of failing to reply to her letters.

She said: “The meeting was extremely positive. He is wholly supportive of the Gurkha cause. He is going to come up with a new solution by the end of this month.

“I do trust the prime minister. I know him very slightly personally and I find him to be a man of integrity.” The British government said after lawmakers threw out its plans that it would review its proposals for Gurkha settlement rights.

Under the current rules, Britain would only give residency rights to 4,300 ex-Gurkhas, falling short of demands that they be granted to all 36,000 Nepali ex-soldiers who served with the British army before 1997.

At the moment, only Gurkha soldiers who retired after 1997 - when their base moved from Hong Kong to Britain - have the automatic right to stay permanently.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas has argued that cost of bowing to the Gurkhas’ demands “could well run into billions of pounds.”

Some 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in World Wars I and II and more than 45,000 died in British uniform. Around 3,500 Gurkhas currently serve in the British army, including in Afghanistan.