Moral victory for Ghurkhas as Brown loses his first Commons vote

May 05, 2009 11:38 AM

After widespread outrage last week regarding the treatment of Ghurkha veterans (on which we blogged here), the Government felt humiliating defeat last Wednesday, Gordon Brown’s first since taking office. In what appears to be a rare victory for the democratic process, 27 Labour MPs voted against the Government (with a further 75 abstaining) on a Liberal Democrat motion to give all Ghurkas a right to residency. The vote, while not legally binding, puts enormous pressure on ministers to completely rethink their approach to the Ghurkha issue.


Immigration minister Phil Woolas begun this process by laying out a four point plan to appease MPs concerns. Firstly the guidelines published on the 24th of April will be reconsidered;  the Government’s review of the impact of its policy options will be published quickly (before the summer recess); and the cases of the 1,300 Ghurkha’s awaiting settlement decisions will have their cases considered by the end of May (rather than 11th June). Finally, Ghurkha’s who fail to win the right to settle will not have the decision implemented prior to the outcome of the review. In other words, they will not be deported.


But, determined not to just let this go against them without a fight, Woolas threatened that the UK’s defence budget could be hit if the Government is forced to give all Ghurkhas the right to residency, arguing that the “overly ambitious” plans (of the Liberal Democrats) had estimated cost of £1.4 billion. Quite apart from the fact that playing petty politics with the future of the UK defence budget is entirely inappropriate (particularly as the extra costs will not be felt on the MoD’s balance sheet), if the Government wanted too it could find the money; the National Audit Office highlighted last Friday that £588 million had been lost in benefit overpayments, so this money is clearly available, even without having to make cuts elsewhere (for a separate comment on the overpayments see here). It is also telling that this ‘cost’ argument has only come at the very end of this long debate. If it was the critical issue, why was it not at the front and centre of the Government’s defence back in 2008.  But of course the Government, which has long known it is bankrupt, was always going to be unwilling to admit that it couldn’t afford to do the right thing. MPs of all parties must now ensure that the outcome of this vote is translated into policies that are properly implemented, and not derailed or ignored by a Government struggling to sustain its authority.

After widespread outrage last week regarding the treatment of Ghurkha veterans (on which we blogged here), the Government felt humiliating defeat last Wednesday, Gordon Brown’s first since taking office. In what appears to be a rare victory for the democratic process, 27 Labour MPs voted against the Government (with a further 75 abstaining) on a Liberal Democrat motion to give all Ghurkas a right to residency. The vote, while not legally binding, puts enormous pressure on ministers to completely rethink their approach to the Ghurkha issue.


Immigration minister Phil Woolas begun this process by laying out a four point plan to appease MPs concerns. Firstly the guidelines published on the 24th of April will be reconsidered;  the Government’s review of the impact of its policy options will be published quickly (before the summer recess); and the cases of the 1,300 Ghurkha’s awaiting settlement decisions will have their cases considered by the end of May (rather than 11th June). Finally, Ghurkha’s who fail to win the right to settle will not have the decision implemented prior to the outcome of the review. In other words, they will not be deported.


But, determined not to just let this go against them without a fight, Woolas threatened that the UK’s defence budget could be hit if the Government is forced to give all Ghurkhas the right to residency, arguing that the “overly ambitious” plans (of the Liberal Democrats) had estimated cost of £1.4 billion. Quite apart from the fact that playing petty politics with the future of the UK defence budget is entirely inappropriate (particularly as the extra costs will not be felt on the MoD’s balance sheet), if the Government wanted too it could find the money; the National Audit Office highlighted last Friday that £588 million had been lost in benefit overpayments, so this money is clearly available, even without having to make cuts elsewhere (for a separate comment on the overpayments see here). It is also telling that this ‘cost’ argument has only come at the very end of this long debate. If it was the critical issue, why was it not at the front and centre of the Government’s defence back in 2008.  But of course the Government, which has long known it is bankrupt, was always going to be unwilling to admit that it couldn’t afford to do the right thing. MPs of all parties must now ensure that the outcome of this vote is translated into policies that are properly implemented, and not derailed or ignored by a Government struggling to sustain its authority.

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