Boris Johnson faces fresh pressure over the plight of a British woman jailed in Iran, after Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband revealed he was forced to write to the Foreign Office to remind the government of its own official position on the case.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held in one of Iran’s most brutal prisons on charges of spying and spreading propaganda. Her family insist she was in the country on holiday with her daughter visiting her parents.
But speaking to The Andrew Marr Show in Sunday, Environment Secretary Michael Gove further clouded the government’s position on the case after he said he “didn’t know” why Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in the country.
When confronted with the repeated insistence from Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, that she was on holiday, Gove added: “In that case I take exactly her husband’s assurance in that regard.”
In an interview with the Today programme on Monday morning, Richard Ratcliffe indicated he was less than happy with Gove’s interview.
He said: “Like all these things I am in my own little bubble so I picked it up from social media and all the outrage and my cousins were very indignant about it not being very clear about what she was doing - ‘her husband says this and her husband says that’.
“So actually I wrote to the Foreign Office and said ’listen, can you please remind your Cabinet Ministers that the Government position is that the Government has no doubt that Nazanin was there on holiday and I left it at that.”
Gove’s clumsy intervention provoked a strong backlash:
The Marr interview is just the latest in a series of blunders by the government in the case.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held for around 19 months, but her situation was made worse earlier this month after Johnson said that she had been “training journalists” - an erroneous comment that could add five years to her jail term.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain on Monday morning, Ratcliffe revealed the Foreign Secretary has yet to apologise for the gaffe.
He said: “He was sorry for what Nazanin was going through, and for her suffering, and he said all the country was behind her.”
Pushed by host Piers Morgan on whether Johnson apologised for making it immeasurably worse, Richard Ratcliffe said: “He didn’t make the connection. He didn’t mention it.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has seen a medical specialist after finding lumps on her breasts and is “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.
A senior Tory MP today added weight to calls from Labour for Johnson to consider resigning from the Cabinet over the affair.
Nicky Morgan said if it was true Johnson had not read his Foreign Office briefing documents on Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case it was “completely inexcusable”.
“I certainly think he should be considering his position, yes,” she told the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on Monday.
Richard Ratcliffe released a statement on Sunday underlining his wife’s ill-health and is calling for her to be released on medical and humanitarian grounds.
Ratcliffe is urging Johnson to take him on his forthcoming diplomatic mission to Tehran amid growing fears over her health.
He said his wife had “expressed anger” at the Foreign Secretary over the “shambles” her case has become, but he did not believe Johnson should be forced to quit.
The two men spoke last night for the first time and hope to meet face to face this week.
In what could be a significant move, Boris told him Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be ‘eligible’ for ‘diplomatic protection’.