Gordon Brown faced renewed criticism for his refusal to discuss the release of the only convicted Lockerbie bomber after he maintained his silence on the issue despite releasing a statement praising the England cricket team’s Ashes victory.
Downing Street said that the release of Abdulbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi on compassionate grounds last week had always been one for the Scottish administration. However, it emerged that the Prime Minister would be writing to the England team following their win against Australia.
Both the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, spoke out last week after the public anger over the hero’s welcome given to Megrahi on his return to Tripoli. President Obama and the head of the FBI have also condemned the release.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that Mr Brown’s refusal to comment on the decision to release Megrahi had become “absurd and damaging”. He also revealed that he disagreed with the Libyan’s release. “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,” he said.
Pressure has also been on Mr Brown to break his silence after revelations that he discussed Megrahi’s case with the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, when they met last month. He has also been asked to explain what advice was given to Holyrood on Megrahi’s application for release on compassionate grounds and a separate request to be transferred to a Libyan prison.
An official spokesman for the Prime Minister said that releasing a statement discussing Megrahi’s release was a “uniquely sensitive and difficult decision”. He added: “Clearly the Prime Minister recognises this was a very difficult decision, and was clearly an extremely sensitive one, and there will be very strong feelings from the families of those people who were victims of this terrorist attack.”
However, the spokesman did confirm that Mr Brown did not believe the decision to release Megrahi 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.”
A senior Tory MP has called for Parliament to be recalled to discuss the decision to free the Libyan. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, John Redwood, the MP for Wokingham, said that MPs had to be given the chance to debate the issue. “When you first took the highest political office in the UK you stated that you wished to restore the UK Parliament to a more central role in our democratic life,” he wrote. “You cannot be serious unless you today recall the UK Parliament, to meet later this week.
“We also want to know more about the UK’s relationships with Libya and the USA,” he added. He also said MPs needed an “urgent debate on the state of the economy”.