Brown ends Ashes silence with No 10 invite

By Alex Stevenson and Ian Dunt

Gordon Brown has invited England’s victorious Ashes team to a reception in Downing Street – but only after a day of silence which led some into suspecting a link with the Lockerbie controversy.

Nearly 24 hours had passed since Alastair Cook took the catch that sealed the series in England’s favour before the prime minister published his first open comment on the issue, in a letter to England skipper Andrew Strauss.

David Cameron beat the prime minister to congratulate the England team, although the prime minister’s wife sent the squad congratulations via Twitter.

Some had suggested Mr Brown’s failure to respond to the Oval victory was linked to his refusal to comment on the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, giving the story additional currency this morning.

“Of course the prime minister was delighted by the win. and will be writing to the team,” the No 10 spokesman added.

“The issue of whether or not we’re going to comment on a sporting event. is completely different to whether he chooses to comment on a judicial decision. I don’t see that the two are comparable.”

In his letter, Mr Brown wrote: “I wanted to write to congratulate you and the entire England squad on regaining the Ashes.

“The series has been yet another wonderful showcase for cricket and for all that is great about sport.

“It has provided high sporting drama throughout the summer that has yet again gripped the entire nation, and to win the Ashes with your magnificent display at the Oval – and coming back from the defeat at Headingley in the fourth Test – shows great determination and commitment.”

The prime minister’s silence had been in marked contrast to his words of praise for the England women’s team after they won the Twenty20 World Cup this spring.

“We would normally have Gordon Brown associating himself with every national sporting success. But today he is even silent on that subject because of the embarrassment of his cowardly silence over Megrahi,” shadow defence secretary Liam Fox was quoted by the Evening Standard as saying earlier.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg did not suggest there was a link between the Ashes silence and the lack of comment on Lockerbie.

But he criticised Mr Brown nonetheless. “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.

“In these circumstances, it is absurd and damaging that the British prime minister simply remains silent in the hope that someone else will take the flak.”

Mr Cameron, who had made the same points in a letter to the prime minister as early as Friday, was quick to make his own comments on the Ashes win and beat the prime minister by around 20 hours.

“Congratulations to Andrew Strauss and all the England team on their Ashes triumph,” the Conservative leader said yesterday.

“It has been an incredible series and a fitting end to Andrew Flintoff’s test career. The team and backroom staff should know just how proud the entire country is of their inspirational performance.”

At least Mrs Brown was quicker off the mark than her husband. She wrote on Twitter: “Sarah Brown wishes Freddie Flintoff a successful knee op – one of the heroes of England’s conquest to regain the Ashes today.”

Sports commentators, and many political observers, are watching the team closely for any repeat of the festivities which took place last time England won the Ashes, in 2005.

Flintoff famously appeared with red eyes on the victory bus, before several players appeared to turn up to a Downing Street reception drunk, with one urinating in the garden. Similar antics are not expected this time round.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “The Queen congratulates the England team on their victory in the Ashes, and extends her good wishes to both teams on their excellent performances over the course of the series.”

Yesterday England sealed a memorable 2-1 series win over the Australians with a 197-run victory in the final Test at the Oval.

The win sees England regain the precious Ashes urn they won in 2005 on home soil but lost in a 5-0 whitewash in 2006/07.