Boris Johnson says sorry for 'mistake' over jailed Briton in Iran
Boris Johnson Boris Johnson says sorry for 'mistake' over jailed Briton in Iran
Foreign secretary apologises for âdistress and anguishâ his remarks caused to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family
Boris Johnson has apologised for his âmistakeâ in comments about a British-Iranian mother detained in Iran, which had led for calls for his resignation for putting her at further risk.
The foreign secretary said he was in no doubt that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in the country on holiday visiting relatives w ith her young daughter, not âtraining journalistsâ as he had told the foreign affairs select committee.
Her family said the error had been seized on by Iranian authorities as proof that she was a threat to the regime. Downing Street said earlier on Monday they would consider her husbandâs proposal to give his wife diplomatic protection.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said: âI hope the House will understand with crystal clarity that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was there on holiday. She was not there in any professional capacity.
âInsofar that people got a different impression, it was my mistake, I should have been clearer ... I apologise for the distress and anguish caused to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family. Our priority now is to everything we can to get her out of Iran on humanitarian grounds.â
Johnson said he had already written to the foreign affairs select committee to correct his remarks and would meet Zaghari-Ratcliffeâs husband Richard Ratcliffe on Wednesday, after speaking to him by telephone on Monday morning.
He said he would discuss the idea of giving Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection in a meeting with her husband this week. âHe has requested to come to Tehran. I donât know whether that will be possible but we will see what we can do,â he said.
âWe do not normally call for the release of consular cases because very often that exacerbates their position,â Johnson went on. âBut I have called for her release on humanitarian grounds.â
As Labour MPs called for him to apologise for the error, he said: âYes, of course, I apologise for the distress, the suffering that has been caused by the impression that I gave that the government believed, that I believed, she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday and that is the view.â
Johnson continued: âI do apologise, I do apologise, and of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity.â
The foreign secretary was speaking after he returned from Brussels to answer an urgent question from the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, on the case in the House of Commons. Thornberry said there had been a week of âobfuscation and blusterâ from Johnson.
She urged him to state âsimply and unequivocallyâ that he got it wrong when claiming Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists when she was visiting Iran, despite her familyâs insistence she had been on holiday with her young daughter.
Thornberry told the Commons: âWe know, from the evidence of Richard Ratcliffe, that when Nazanin was told of the remarks and saw how the Iranian authorities would exploit them she became hugely distressed and upset.â
She said Johnson should âaccept the impact that his words have had, accept the distress that has been caused to Nazanin and apologise properly for that â" not apologise for upsetting people, apologise for getting it wrong.â
Thornberry also criticised the environment secretary, Michael Gove, for his comments over the weekend, when he replied âI donât knowâ when asked by the BBCâs Andrew Marr show why the British mother had been in Iran.
No 10 confirmed on Monday morning that the government could consider granting Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection to help secure her release from jail in Iran, after Johnson discussed the idea with the detained womanâs husband.
âI think that the foreign secretary has obviously spoken with her husband and that is one of the options being looked at,â Theresa Mayâs spokesman told reporters.
Giving diplomatic protection is not the same as diplomatic immunity, under which diplomatic and consular staff cannot be prosecuted. It is a state-to-state mechanism under whi ch a matter is moved beyond the usual consular level and on to a position where the state making the move is formally seeking redress over an issue.
In an open letter to Johnson published in the Evening Standard newspaper, Ratcliffe said he and the human rights charity Redress had written to the Foreign Office two months ago explaining why his wife should receive diplomatic protection, but had not received a reply.
âThe Foreign Office always emphasises that Nazanin is a dual national,â Ratcliffe wrote. âBut her life is in Britain â" she has a British home, a British job, a British husband, a British child. Given the way dual nationality works, Britain can choose to say, âWe will protect her as though she is British.â
âThe Foreign Office refuses to acknowledge that she is being held because she is British and that she faces a longer sentence because of your words â" my understanding of the strange reluctance to apologise.â
Ratcliffe ha s also reiterated his view that Johnsonâs resignation would not help his wifeâs case. He described the phone conversation as âpositiveâ and said he would discuss the idea of a joint trip to Iran to try to visit his wife.Topics
- Boris Johnson
- Middle East and North Africa
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