Leaders' great getaway: The sunlounger summit

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Indy Politics

In August 2007, when foot-and-mouth disease returned to Britain's door, Gordon Brown cut short his Dorset holiday after just four hours to return to No 10 and convene a Cobra emergency meeting.

When the banks were on the brink of collapse in September 2008, the then Prime Minister and his officials stayed up through most of the night to prepare a response to the crisis, ordering in takeaway food to see them through till dawn.

This weekend, by contrast, as the US economy was downgraded for the first time in 70 years of credit ratings, and the EU was facing its most serious crisis in its 66-year history, David Cameron remained in his £4,000-a-week villa in Tuscany, while George Osborne, the Chancellor, stayed at his holiday home in California – in a time zone nine hours behind Italy.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was with his family in the south of France, but returns to the UK tonight.

While coalition sources deny there are any parallels between the current situation and the crises that the notoriously workaholic Mr Brown dealt with, the perception remained of a Cabinet on holiday.

Mr Cameron has resolutely refused to cut short his 10-day break before his scheduled return to Britain this week. Yet after the Prime Minister was caught, early on in his holiday, failing to tip the waitress who had refused to serve him cappuccino in a Tuscan café, one could unkindly point out that this was his only first-hand experience of an Italian debt crisis.

Downing Street sources insisted that Mr Cameron – who has taken his red boxes and a small staff on holiday with him, including aides, secretaries and security personnel – remained in charge of the country, and was "abreast of developments". Aides to Mr Osborne insisted they would not get drawn into whether he had considered returning early. As well as keeping in touch with Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne spoke by phone on Friday to his French counterpart, François Barion, and the EU finance commissioner, Olli Rehn, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde last night.

Their EU counterparts were also pressing ahead with their summer breaks while maintaining contact with each other by secure phone lines.

Yet reports that world leaders and finance ministers were holding talks by phone over the weekend invited suggestions of a "Sun-lounger Summit" with politicians strewn across beaches or by poolsides.

Mr Cameron was due to speak to the President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the G7 presidency and is under pressure to call an emergency summit, by phone last night.

Mr Sarkozy is in the French Riviera, while the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is walking in the Italian Dolomites with her husband. At least she is in the same country as the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, who is staying at his luxury villa near Milan.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, was at his country residence of Chevening for the weekend, after convening a meeting with officials on Friday.

The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, seized on the holidays by accusing ministers of failing to provide leadership.

In the US, President Obama dealt with the blow to his country's economy from his weekend retreat at Camp David, but will return to the White House tomorrow.

So was anyone actually at their desks? Only Olli Rehn, who cut short his holiday to rush back to Brussels.

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