Boris Johnson is “doing a great job” despite potentially consigning a British-Iranian mum to more years in a Tehran jail, his allies in the Tory party insist.
As calls intensify for Theresa May to sack the foreign secretary, cabinet ministers used the Sunday politics shows to get behind Johnson.
He has drawn criticism for a series of errors, the latest of which saw him wrongly assert that aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “training journalists in Iran”.
She was in fact visiting family in the country when she was arrested and jail on charges of espionage 18 months ago.
But, Michael Gove, Environment Secretary and Brexiteer ally of Johnson’s, refused to condemn Johnson when pressed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and said critics were shifting blame away from the Iran’s human rights abuses.
“I think Boris Johnson is doing a great job as foreign secretary,” he said.
He added: “I think that it is plain wrong for us to try to find fault with democrats when the real responsibility is to say to the Iranian regime: you are a serial abuser of human rights, you are the principal state sponsor of terrorism, you have blood on your hands in Syria, your responsibility is to ensure that this British citizen is at liberty.
“We play their game. We play into the extremists’ hands if we do anything other than show solidarity in the face of their human rights abuses.”
It came as reports emerged that Gove and Johnson, frontline figures of the Vote Leave campaign, had written a secret letter to the PM, instructing her on how to handle Brexit.
Gove refused to be drawn on the reports by Marr, claiming it was internal government communications.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan echoed calls by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for Johnson to go.
“As your panel just said this is the latest in a long line of gaffes by our Foreign Secretary,” Khan told Marr.
He pointed to Johnson calling former US President Barack Obama anti-British and “part Kenyan” and the foreign secretary using a platform at the Conservative Party conference to ‘joke’ that Sirte, in Libya, could become the next Dubai if the “dead bodies” could be cleared away.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe could face an additional five years in jail because of Johnson’s error in front of the Foreign Select Committee earlier this month.
“Look, I think he has got to go,” Khan said. “He is our Foreign Secretary, whose job is diplomacy and representing the best interests of our country. If Theresa May was a strong Prime Minister she would have sacked him a long time ago.
“There are questions about why she appointed him in the first place. She did, but surely he he must have had enough to go.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis used an interview on Sky News to back Johnson.
When asked by Niall Paterson if Johnson was “unsackable”, he said: “Why would you want to sack him? He’s a good foreign secretary.”
Davis conceded there was “a flurry” of things happening after two cabinet ministers were forced to resign in the space of the week - International Development Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon both had to stand down - but added “this happens to all governments at some point”.