The Foreign Secretary finally gave the British mum detained in Iran an unreserved apology in parliament.
– After the shadow foreign secretary demanded he say sorry for his colossal blunder in an urgent question in the House of Commons. Emily Thornberry also called on Boris Johnson to stop endangering Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by finally admitting he had made an error.
“Of course I apologise for the distress, for the suffering that has been caused by the impression I gave that I believed she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday,” said Boris Johnson.
The British mum is being held in an Iranian prison following accusations by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that she was plotting to overthrow the government.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been languishing in a prison in Tehran since last April, since attempting to fly home to London after visiting family in Iran.
But while her UK family have been calling on the Foreign Office to fight for her release, the Foreign Secretary made matters much worse for her by mistakenly telling an open House of Commons hearing that she was “teaching people journalism.”
An Iranian judge told the 38-year-old mum she now faces more years in jail after gaffe-prone Boris Johnson’s remarks.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has accused Mr Johnson of ineptitude and called for him to resign if there is any increase to the British mum’s sentence. And today Thornberry and Yvette Cooper harangued the Foreign Secretary from the opposition benches not to fudge his words any more or leave them “open to any interpretation” that could further endanger the detained Brit.
Boris Johnson had initially tried to claim that he had not made a blunder and had been “misinterpreted.” He also had denied that his words had left Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe facing further prosecution by the Iranian authorities.
But today he was forced to admit: “I hope that the House will understand with crystal clarity that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was there on holiday. She was not there in any professional capacity. In so far as people got a different impression of what I was saying… that was my mistake. I should have been clearer. I apologise for the distress and anguish that has been cause Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family and our priority now is to do everything we can to get her out of Iran on humanitarian grounds.”
Emily Thornberry accused Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove who has defended the Foreign Secretary’s words of leaving wriggle room for the Iranians to keep prosecuting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe unless he wholeheartedly admitted he had been mistaken to say that she was working teaching journalists in Iran.
“The Foreign Secretary argued last week that his comments to the Select Committee had – and I quote – ’no connection whatsoever with the latest threats by the Iranian authorities to extend Nazanin’s sentence, and that it was simply untrue to suggest otherwise,’” said Thornberry, and explained how Johnson’s statement to parliament was “entirely contradicted by what has been said by the Iranian courts.”
There have been calls for the minister to resign following the blunder and his response, from many quarters including from one Conservative MP who also branded the eccentric front bencher a “f****** disgrace”.
Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe has asked the Foreign Office to give his wife diplomatic protection now as he fears for her deteriorating mental state. This would mean an escalation of the dispute which under international law would mean Britain can take diplomatic action over the treatment of his wife.
Downing Street said it is “one of the options” it was considering.