It’s unfashionable to quote Kipling, so I will. I have recently acquired a rather nice Folio Society edition of Kipling’s selected verse. In his wonderful poem “The Ballad of East and West” we find this splendid line: “So thou must eat the White Queen’s meat, and all her foes are thine”. That, broadly speaking, is what we in Britain have said to the Gurkhas, and they have eaten the White Queen’s meat, and fought in the White Queen’s wars, for more decades than I care to remember. They have done so, broadly speaking, with courage, and discipline, and determination, not least in the Falklands War, where the rumour of their coming and the threat of their kukris struck terror into the hearts of the Argentines.
With little publicity, they continue to contribute honourably to today’s campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We used to let them go home on rather modest pensions. Since 1997, we have improved their pensions. And we have allowed those who left the service recently to settle in England. But we deny those rights to Gurkhas who left the service more than a decade ago. This is shameful. Surely those who fought in the British Army, in Britain’s wars, deserve better, and the older ones perhaps have the greater claim on us.
We are prepared to let in every Tom Dick and Harry from around the world (including the legendary one-legged roof-tiler). We have EU citizens, economic migrants, illegals to whom we turn a blind eye, and “asylum seekers”, some with rather limited credibility. We have organised criminals and gangs and people-traffickers. We let them all come, in their hundreds of thousands. Yet we fail to offer a place to those small numbers of Gurkhas who have given their best years, and risked their lives, for us and for our country. It will not do.
Both the Conservative Party, and The Freedom Association (which I have the privilege to Chair), have criticised our government’s failure, in a host of ways, to honour the Military Covenant (I published a prominent article on this in the March issue of Compass magazine). The Gurkha issue is a small part of the duty we owe to our soldiers, but it is a key test of our commitment. We cannot ask them to fight for us, and then throw them out at the end of their careers. Those who have eaten the White Queen’s meat deserve better of us.