Gordon Brown remains silent in furore over Lockerbie bomber

Gordon Brown kicked off the week by congratulating England’s cricket team for winning the Ashes while maintaining a dogged silence over the decision by the Scottish government to release the Lockerbie bomber.

The prime minister’s spokesman insisted it would be inappropriate for Mr Brown to comment on a matter that “was and remains a matter for the Scottish justice secretary”, in spite of a wave of anger over the decision in the US and UK.

That assertion has been greeted with scepticism in the media and Tory circles, where it has been noted that Mr Brown is usually free with his opinions on a range of less weighty issues, including cricket or reality television shows.

But Mr Brown’s reticence is unsurprising, given that the decision by Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s justice secretary, to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is perhaps the least worst outcome from the prime minister’s perspective.

Firstly the convicted Libyan bomber’s release on compassionate grounds will further warm relations between Tripoli and London (Colonel Gadaffi is unlikely to care a great deal about the constitutional niceties of Scottish devolution) and will improve trading links between the two countries.

Secondly the whole affair has backfired badly on Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, who now finds himself embroiled in a high-level dispute with Washington. Mr Brown cannot abide Mr Salmond, the SNP leader whose government is now under severe pressure.

If Mr Brown criticises the decision, he will annoy the Colonel; if he backs the SNP government in Scotland, he will infuriate the Americans. Silence is perhaps his best policy.

Nevertheless, he will face more tough questioning on his own personal view when he returns to Downing St on Tuesday for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

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