Boris Johnson savaged by MPs as he refuses to apologise for Iran gaffe

Posted On: 
7th November 2017

MPs have rounded on Boris Johnson after he refused to apologise for a major gaffe that could land a British mother five more years in an Iranian jail.

Boris Johnson was in the Commons to MPs on Britain's counterstrategy against Daesh
Credit: 
Parliament TV

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told by the Iranian authorities she could see her sentence doubled after the Foreign Secretary wrongly told a Commons committee last week she was "simply teaching people journalism" when she was detained in the country 18 months ago.

Earlier today Mr Johnson spoke with his Iranian counterpart in a bid to explain the comments, which he accepted “could have been clearer”, and reaffirm that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had in fact been on holiday at the time of her arrest.

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But addressing MPs this afternoon, he repeatedly refused to give a direct and unequivocal apology, only saying he was "sorry if any words of mine have been so taken out of context or misconstrued".

His response sparked fury across the House of Commons, with his Conservative colleague Anna Soubry calling on him to "make sure his own ambitions" come second to the needs of the British people.

She later tweeted an excoriating takedown of the Cabinet minister, "saying his lack of contrition is as shameful as the original error".

Mr Johnson insisted to the Commons: “My point was I disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, not that I lent any credence to Iranian allegations that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry again ramped up calls for Mr Johnson to resign and said that by repeating the claims of the Iranian regime he had caused “distress and anguish”.

"What will it take before the Prime Minister says enough is enough?,” she said.

"If the truth is she can’t because she doesn’t have the strength or authority to sack him, then how about the Foreign Secretary himself takes a bit of personal responsibility and admits a job like this where your words hold gravity and your actions have consequences, it is simply not the job for him?"

'CARELESS'

Labour MP and Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper also called on Mr Johnson to stand down - blasting his approach to the role as “careless” and “lazy”.

“The Foreign Secretary had a week to correct the record and to apologise over Ms Zahari-Ratcliffe. He has not done so," she said.

"This is not the first time that the Foreign Secretary has said things which are inaccurate or which are damaging and he cannot keep simply shrugging them off as a lack of clarity or a careless choice of words."

Labour MP Chris Bryant said Mr Johnson’s attempt to clarify his initial comments did not match what he told the committee last week.

"There is not a single eight-year-old in the country that wouldn’t be able to tell the Foreign Office how to do his job better," he added.

"And the honest truth is, if he can’t show some contrition today, then the honest truth is, he shouldn't be in his job because our people aren’t safe.”

'UNFORGIVABLE'

The Zaghari-Ratcliffe family’s constituency MP Tulip Siddiq accused Mr Johnson of repeating Iranian “lies”.

“It is not enough for the Foreign Secretary not to know the basic details of this case, it is unforgivable to repeat the lies of the Iranian revolutionary guard," she said.

“'I should have been clearer' does not cut it when it comes to a matter of life and death."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson accused Mr Johnson of “casual disregard”.

“This is not a game, if he will not take his job seriously enough to even read his brief, he should step down and make way for one of his colleagues who will,” she said.

A Downing Street spokesman insisted the Prime Minister retained full confidence in Mr Johnson's handling of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case.

He said: "The Government is working hard to try to secure her release and we continue to do so. The Foreign Secretary is playing an important role in that and so is the Prime Minister."