Bowing to public and political pressure, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government has announced a major policy u-turn that will allow nearly 40,000 veteran Gurkha soldiers the right to settle in Britain. The tough Nepalese fighters have been a part of the British army for nearly 200 years and 43,000 lost their lives in the two World Wars.
They have fought bravely for Britain for years, but their toughest battle was won on May 21, 2009 when the government reversed its position and opened the door to veteran Gurkha soldiers who wish to move to the United Kingdom.
The historic announcement was made by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in the House of Commons. Outside parliament, a group of Gurkhas hung on her every word.
"All former Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and who have served more than four years will now be eligible to apply for settlement in the U.K.," said Smith.
The change in government policy was well supported by the people of Britain who know the sacrifice Gurkhas have made over the years. The fearsome Nepalese soldiers have been fighting for Britain since 1815, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Home Secretary Smith's announcement in the commons reflected the mood of the country.
"Mr. Speaker on the basis of the measure, I have set out today I am proud now to be able to offer this country's welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas and who wish to settle here," said Smith. "I am sure that all who do come here will make the most of the opportunities of living and working in the U.K., and I am delighted that we now have been able to agree across government, across the House and with the Gurkhas' representatives new settlement rights that all those who have served us so well, so highly deserve and I commend this statement to the House."
Actress Joanna Lumley, whose father served with the Gurkhas, spearheaded the campaign to change the rules. Surrounded by Gurkha vets, she thanked those who stood with them.
"I want to thank everybody who has supported this campaign. We have had unprecedented support from all across the country and I must add, all across the world," she said. "Everybody has wanted to support the Gurkhas and to allow them into this country. I must pay special tribute to the fourth estate, the ladies and gentlemen of the press and media without whom our voices could not have been heard. I want to thank everybody who has supported us in the smallest and largest way. But best of all and most of all and what the prime minister said to me this morning, we want to thank the Gurkhas!"
And from the Gurkhas, a chant the embattled prime minister has not heard for a while.
"Three cheers for Gordon Brown! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Thank you very much," said the Gurkhas.
It is not known how many of the Gurkhas may actually to take up the offer and move to Britain, but Home Secretary Smith said she expects to welcome 10- to 15,000 applications during the next two years.