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.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown today held breakfast talks with Muammar Gaddafi, touching on oil price volatility, improving bilateral relations between Britain and Libya and the sensitive issue of the Lockerbie bombing.

In their first head-to-head meeting, the colonel asked Mr Brown for help in the case of the dying former Libyan agent who is appealing against a life sentence for the 1988 attack.

The Scottish Appeal Court said this week the case would not be concluded until next year, raising concerns that 57-year-old Abdel Basset al-Megrahi – who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer – will die before the appeal finishes.

Mr Brown deftly passed the buck to his old adversary Alex Salmond, the Scotland first minister, pointing out that the Scottish National party leader was responsible for dealing with the issue.

Silvio Berlusconi’s wise decision to avoid over-the-top banqueting arrangements at the G8 summit has been welcomed by summiteers in L’Aquila but the menus have not gone down well with everyone.

Sarah Brown, wife of the British prime minister, complains today that she is tiring of being presented with veal, a meat she refuses to eat on ethical grounds because of allegedly cruel production methods.

Writing on Twitter, she said: “Am hoping that no veal served at lunch again
today – have declined it twice this trip as just feel very strongly about it.”

But it hasn’t been all terrible for Mrs Brown. On Thursday she hooked up with George Clooney for a tour of the earthquake damage in L’Aquila.

It is proving difficult to work in the summit press tent – and that has nothing to do with the stuffy conditions or the malfunctioning internet access plaguing the thousands of hacks gathered in L’Aquila for the G8 Summit.

In any case, who wants to hear a journalist moaning about poor conditions when earthquake victims are living in real tents just down the road?

No, the problem is that foreign journalists (Brits in particular) are constantly finding themselves being interviewed by their Italian counterparts, anxious to discover why they are so negative about Silvio Berlusconi, the summit host.

The near-blanket scorn heaped on Mr Berlusconi in the British press has clearly upset the prime minister himself, not least a report in The Guardian this week that moves were afoot to boot Italy out of the G8 and replace it with Spain.

Mr Berlusconi called The Guardian “a small paper”. Journalists from the left-leaning British paper relabelled their bags “Corriere della Sera” in a light-hearted attempted to escape further retribution.

Whatever Mr Berlusconi’s domestic problems, both the Americans and the British have gone out of their way on Wednesday to praise the Italian preparations for the summit, which thankfully have been largely in the hands of the country’s highly-rated diplomatic service.

Silvio Berlusconi’s dismal record in honouring Italy’s commitment to increase development aid is coming under the G8 spotlight at an unfortunate time.
Bono, the anti-poverty compaigner, just happens to be Italy on tour with U2 and laid into Mr Berlusconi (respectfully of course) in a concert in Milan on Tuesday night:
“It is well known that I have had some differences with your prime minister over promises that were made and not kept to the World’s poor.
I would like you to know that never ever would I disrespect the Italian people – Never.
Or the prime minister’s party or even the prime minister as a person, I do not disrespect.
But as prime minister right now – Yes.
Italians have given many gifts to the world, modern physics, the renaissance… the piano, the gift of singing from Pavarotti to Puccini to Jovanotti to Zucchero. You have so many gifts.
Well in the next few days… Your leader will decide where he stands on the gift of life that lives beyond these shores.”
Poetry. But one suspects that it will take more than a few lectures from Bono to persuade Mr Berlusconi to keep the promises he made at Gleneagles in 2005.


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Leyla Boulton is an editor on the FT's main newsdesk
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson is the FT's media editor
Robin Harding is an FT correspondent in Tokyo
George Parker is the FT's political editor
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