PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on the Gurkhas and Iraq

by Stephen Tall on March 19, 2008

The Lib Dem leader used his two questions to Gordon Brown today to highlight the issue of Gurkha soldiers who served this country being denied British citizenship; and then to ask Gordon Brown if he has any regrets about signing the cheques that paid for the Iraq war.

Two very serious issues, and as has become his custom very punchily delivered by Nick. Indeed, the level of loutish barracking to which he’s subjected by Labour and Tory MPs is an indication that his questions are hitting home – the Lib Dems’ opponents are very keen to ensure his sure-footed performances are interrupted as much as possible to make it more difficult for them to be broadcast on the news.

(Ironically, I heard a BBC journalist mention on the radio that Nick was “struggling to make himself heard” in the Commons – as if that reflected negatively on him, rather than the ill manners of those who shout out to drown him out).

Following Vince Cable’s star turns at PMQs was always going to be a tough act. It’s considerably to Nick’s credit that he’s done it seamlessly, but in his own style.

Anyway, Hansard’s record is reprinted below, so judge for yourselves:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Two hours ago a retired Gurkha soldier handed over this medal to me in protest at the Government’s refusal to grant him British citizenship. Does the Prime Minister know what it means for a loyal British soldier to give up a medal that he won for his long years of service to this country? Can he explain to the Gurkhas why on earth he believes that Gurkhas who have served in the Army after 1997 are worthy of British citizenship, but those who served before that date should be deported?

The Prime Minister: Let me also pay a tribute to the Gurkhas. They have been in existence since 1815. They have served loyally in every part of the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they fought with Prince Harry over the past few months. They have done a tremendous job for our country. We are the first Government to have given Gurkhas the right to a pension, for those serving after 1997. We are the first to have given equal pay to the Gurkhas. We are the first to have dealt with the problems of married accommodation, and we are the first to say that after four years in the Army they will have the right to residence in this country. Those are changes that we have brought about. Why is the date 1997? It is the date that the Gurkhas, once based in Hong Kong, moved to be based in Britain. That is why we are honouring the promises that we made for the period after 1997.

Mr. Clegg: That is a technical argument on a moral issue. It is a spectacular misjudgement from the man who signed the cheques for the Iraq war, but has never had the moral courage to take responsibility for it. After five years of conflict in Iraq—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker:
Order. Let the right hon. Gentleman speak. [Interruption.] Order.

Mr. Clegg: After five years of conflict in Iraq—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Clegg: After five years of conflict in Iraq, at the cost of 175 British soldiers’ lives, over 600,000 Iraqi civilians and £7 billion of taxpayers’ money, will the Prime Minister tell the House today whether he has any regrets about his decision to support and pay for the war in Iraq?

The Prime Minister: There is a democracy in Iraq as a result of the changes that have been brought about. Millions of children are getting the benefit of education, vaccination and health care services as a result. We are rebuilding, with the Iraqis, the economy of Iraq. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman wants to go back to a situation where Saddam Hussein was in control of Iraq.