QUITE why it should take the British government until mid-September to decide whether to grant asylum to Iraqis working for the British in Baghdad and Basra is difficult for an outsider, even one with some knowledge of Whitehall, to understand. Of course, there are problems of extended families and of creating precedents; if you ease the rules for interpreters why not for drivers or cleaners? Might you let in a potential terrorist by accident?

The British Ambassador in Baghdad, Dominic Asquith, joined the debate yesterday while preparing to depart at the end of his posting. He said that Britain had a “duty of care” to all Iraqi staff who had put themselves and their families at risk by working for the British and he spoke of his “unbounded admiration” for the courage of those who had braved death threats to do so.

No doubt the Home Office and some other departments have reservations about adopting an “open door” policy for Iraqis vouched for by the British Embassy; there is also the point that Britain has not yet set a date for withdrawal from Iraq. But the Danish and the Spanish had no difficulty about issuing visas when they left Iraq, so why should the British be so dilatory about promising the same kind of treatment? Gordon Brown should tell all those involved in Whitehall that he wants the most considerate possible policy introduced, and quickly. It would be intolerable to leave these vulnerable Iraqis behind.