Brown breaks silence – to congratulate England cricketers

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Gordon Brown faced renewed criticism for maintaining his silence and refusing to discuss the release of the Lockerbie bomber, despite releasing a statement praising the England cricket team's Ashes victory.

Downing Street said the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds last week had always been the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. However, it emerged that the Prime Minister will write to the England team following Sunday's defeat of Australia.

Both the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, spoke out last week following public anger over the hero's welcome given to Megrahi on his return to Libya. Barack Obama and the head of the FBI also condemned the release.

Mr Brown may be forced to discuss the Megrahi case today when he appears at a press conference after meeting the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at No 10.

Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, was "simply amazed" by Mr Brown's silence. "The silence of the Prime Minister is unforgivable on an issue of this magnitude," he said.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Mr Brown's refusal to comment on the release of Megrahi had become "absurd and damaging". He added that he disagreed with the Libyan's release, saying: "Although the decision to release Megrahi was a Scottish one, for which Gordon Brown was not personally responsible, the fallout puts the UK at the centre of an international storm."

There has also been pressure on Mr Brown to break his silence after revelations that he discussed Megrahi's case with the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, when they met last month. He has been asked to explain what advice was given to Holyrood on Megrahi's application for release on compassionate grounds.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said releasing a statement discussing Megrahi's release was a "uniquely sensitive and difficult decision". He added: "The Prime Minister recognises ... there will be very strong feelings from the families of the victims."

However, the spokesman did confirm that Mr Brown did not believe the decision to set Megrahi free would give encouragement to terrorists.

"This was a decision taken by the Scottish Justice Secretary in accordance with the laws of Scotland," he said. "I don't see that anyone can argue that this gives succour."

Off message: Brown's populist statements

*Congratulated the diver Tom Daley, 15, on his world championship success. Mr Brown said: "His gold medal shows what is possible with talent, commitment and determination."

*Praised the England women's cricket team for adding the World Twenty20 title to their World Cup and Ashes wins.

*Mourned Michael Jackson's death. "This is very sad news for the millions of Michael Jackson fans in Britain and around the world," the Prime Minister said in a statement.

*Contacted the judges of Britain's Got Talent to enquire about the wellbeing of contestant Susan Boyle: "I hope [she] is OK because she is a really, really nice person."

*Congratulated Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club on their narrow escape from relegation, saying: "Let me too congratulate Brighton on their success."