It is only huge public anger that gets a semblance of decency out of Britain’s “compassionate” Leftist government. There is enormous admiration for the Gurkhas in Britain — but not in the British government

Gurkha campaigners have voiced anger after test cases for retired Nepalese fighters to settle in Britain were rejected — although the government hastily stepped in to try to reassure them. In a new embarrassment for Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the rights of the veteran soldiers, his immigration minister was forced to take to the airwaves at short notice to defuse the campaigners’ fury on Thursday.

The snub to the Gurkhas came a day after Brown vowed to forge new plans within a month after the shock rejection by lawmakers last week of government’s proposals to let only a limited number settle. Under the current rules, Britain would give residency rights to only 4,300 ex-Gurkhas, falling short of demands that they be granted to all 36,000 Nepalese ex-soldiers who served with the British army before 1997.

Indian-born British actress Joanna Lumley said after meeting Brown on Wednesday she believed she could trust him, and that the Gurkhas were counting on him to help them. But on Thursday it emerged that five Gurkhas — including veterans of the Falklands and Gulf wars as well as the widow of another Gurkha soldier — had had their applications to remain in Britain rejected by the government. “We trusted the prime minister to take charge of the situation. This is an outrage and a disgrace,” said a spokesman for the campaign in an initial reaction.

The rejected applications were for Falklands veteran Lance Corporal Gyanendra Rai, as well as two other veterans, Deo Prakash Limbu and Chakra Prasad Limbu, and a Gurkha widow. But minutes before Lumley was due to hold a press conference to voice her ire, immigration minister Phil Woolas appeared on news channels to say the five Gurkha veterans had not been definitively rejected. He claimed the letters sent to the old soldiers said they had been rejected under current guidelines, but reassured them their cases would be reviewed under new rules to be decided by July.

In fast-moving developments, he then held impromptu talks with Lumley, before appearing at a hastily-arranged joint press conference with her at which the tension was palpable. “There are new guidelines coming forward and no action will be taken until those guidelines are in place,” Woolas said, while Lumley explained she had been contacted by the prime minister’s office, surprised at the rejections. “I am confident, and I can give you reassurance, that these cases will be settled in favour of the Gurkhas,” the minister told Sky News television.

The government has argued that the cost of bowing to the Gurkhas’ demands “could well run into billions of pounds”. But lawmakers, including some from Brown’s ruling Labour Party, dealt a shock defeat to the plans in parliament last week, forcing the government to think again.

About 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in the two world wars and more than 45,000 died in British uniform. About 3,500 Gurkhas currently serve in the British army, including in Afghanistan.