Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

– in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 13th November 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 3:33 pm, 13th November 2017

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make a statement on the case of British-Iranian national Ms Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I should like to make a statement on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in response to the right hon. Lady.

The whole House will join me in expressing our deep concern about the ordeal of this young mother, who has spent the last 19 months in jail in Iran. Every hon. Member will join the Government in urging the Iranian authorities to release her on humanitarian grounds.

I spoke by phone to her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, yesterday, and we agreed to meet later this week. I told Mr Ratcliffe that the whole country is behind him and we all want to see his wife home safely.

In view of the understandable concern, I propose to describe the background to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and the efforts the Government are making to secure her release. In April last year, she was visiting her relations in Iran, along with her daughter, Gabriella, who was then only 22 months old, when she was arrested at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran while trying to board her flight back to the UK. The British Government have no doubt that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran on holiday and that that was the sole purpose of her visit. As I said in the House last week, my remarks on the subject before the Foreign Affairs Committee could and should have been clearer. I acknowledge that words I used were open to being misinterpreted, and I apologise to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I have inadvertently caused them any further anguish.

The House should bear in mind that Iran’s regime, and no one else, has chosen to separate this mother from her infant daughter for reasons that even it finds difficult to explain or describe. On 9 September 2016, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought to a secret trial and sentenced to five years in prison, supposedly for plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The House will note that so far as we can tell, no further charges have been brought against her and no further sentence has been imposed since that occasion over a year ago.

Eleven days after Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised her case with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in New York on 20 September 2016. Two days later, I raised her case with my Iranian counterpart, Mr Zarif. For the sake of completeness, the House should know that the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment with President Rouhani on 9 August 2016, and my predecessor as Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Hammond, wrote to the Iranian Foreign Minister about her plight, and other consular cases, on 29 August 2016. [This section has been corrected on 14 November 2017, column 1MC — read correction]

At every meeting with our Iranian counterparts, my colleagues and I have taken every opportunity to raise the cases of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other nationals held in Iranian jails. We have expressed our concerns at every level—official, ministerial, and prime ministerial—on every possible occasion during the 19 months that she has been in jail. In addition, Mr Ratcliffe has held regular meetings with my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, formerly the Minister for the Middle East, and with the current Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt.

A situation where a British mother is held in these circumstances is bound to cast a shadow over Britain’s relations with Iran at a moment when, in the aftermath of the agreement of the nuclear deal in July 2015 and the easing of sanctions, we had all hoped to witness a genuine improvement. So I shall travel to Iran myself later this year to review the full state of our bilateral relations and to drive home the strength of feeling in this House, and in the country at large, about the plight of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and other consular cases. In order to maximise the chances of achieving progress, I would venture to say that hon. Members should place the focus of responsibility on those who are keeping Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe behind bars and who have the power to release her whenever they so choose. We should be united in our demand that the humanitarian reasons for releasing her are so overwhelming that if Iran cares about its reputation in this country, then its leaders will do now what is manifestly right. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Just for the avoidance of doubt, the Foreign Secretary has responded to an urgent question in the course of which he has very properly made remarks, but it is important, as others in the House can testify from past experience, to distinguish between a response to an urgent question, on the one hand, and the proffering by Government of a statement, on the other.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. How unfortunate it is that we need to ask an urgent question as opposed to getting a statement.

Let me say at the outset that whatever strong feelings we have about Iran’s actions in this case, I am sure we are all joined in sending our thoughts to those affected by yesterday’s earthquake on the Iran-Iraq border. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for returning from Brussels to answer this urgent question. Perhaps he reflected that the last time a Minister of State was asked to answer an urgent question on behalf of a Cabinet Minister, the Cabinet Minister lasted only 24 hours.

I hope that we can make more progress today than we were able to make on the same issue last week. Let us start by clarifying the points on which there is absolutely no difference between us. First and foremost, we all want Nazanin to be brought home as soon as possible. No one who has listened over recent days to the heartbreaking testimony of Richard Ratcliffe can be in any doubt about how urgent it is, for Nazanin’s mental and physical health, that she is returned to her family immediately.

Secondly, if that can be done, as has been suggested, by conferring diplomatic status on Nazanin, that would obviously be welcome, although I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary would clarify how that could be achieved—how we can free this innocent British mother without opening up a Grace Mugabe precedent, which might make it possible to use the same tactic in Britain to help a guilty foreign national to escape justice? Thirdly, we can all agree that the responsibility for Nazanin’s incarceration and mistreatment lies entirely with the Iranian authorities, and we all unite in urging for her freedom to be restored.

On those points, we are in full agreement, but let me turn to two key issues on which we have so far differed and, frankly, we continue to differ. First of all, the Foreign Secretary argued last week that his comments to the Select Committee did not have “any connection whatever” with the latest threats by the Iranian authorities to extend Nazanin’s sentence, and that it was simply untrue to suggest otherwise. That is entirely contradicted by what was said by the Iranian courts last weekend, and by what was said on the Iranian judiciary’s website and on Iranian state TV. All of them said explicitly that the Foreign Secretary’s remarks were the basis of their renewed action against Nazanin. We 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. So will the Foreign Secretary today accept the impact that his words have had and the distress that has been caused to Nazanin, and apologise properly for that—apologise not for upsetting people, but for getting it wrong?

Secondly, last week the Foreign Secretary was asked several times to do one very simple thing, and that was simply to admit that he had made a mistake—not that his remarks had been taken out of context or misconstrued, but that they were simply wrong. He has, so far, refused to make that clear, and that refusal was compounded yesterday by his good friend the Environment Secretary. Even after all the debate on this issue, the Environment Secretary still, incredibly, claimed that we “don’t know” why Nazanin is in Iran. We do.

It is not good enough. If it is a matter of pride that the Foreign Secretary is refusing to admit that he made a mistake, I feel bound to say to him that his pride matters not one ounce compared to Nazanin’s freedom. After a week of obfuscation and bluster, will he finally take the opportunity today to state simply and unequivocally, for the removal of any doubt either here or in Tehran, that he simply got it wrong?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am more than happy to say again what I said to the right hon. Lady last week: yes, of course, I apologise for the distress and the suffering that have been caused by the impression that I gave that the Government believed—that I believed—that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday, and that is the view of—[Hon. Members: “Say sorry!”] I do apologise, and of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity. Opposition Members must have heard that from me about a dozen times.

The right hon. Lady asked an important question about diplomatic protection and how that would work. She is absolutely right that that is a question that Richard Ratcliffe himself has raised with me. All I can say is that I will be answering Mr Ratcliffe. I cannot give her an answer today; I would rather answer Mr Ratcliffe in person. I am delighted to say that I am seeing him tomorrow, and I will be explaining the position on diplomatic protection. As I said last week, he has requested to come to Tehran. I do not know whether that will be possible, but we will see what we can do.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

Regrettably, more than a faint whiff of opportunism hangs over this urgent question, and others will question the wisdom of having this discussion at all. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is incumbent on each and every one of us in this House to pay very close attention to what we may or may not be about to say, because the Iranians will be watching these deliberations and we do not want to exacerbate an already extremely difficult situation?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My right hon. Friend is, I am afraid, absolutely right. That is one of the reasons why it is so important that we remain very careful in what we say about the entire case.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade and Investment)

I hope the right hon. Gentleman is reflecting very seriously on his position—the position that he holds not just in this Government, but in society—because, for Nazanin, it would have been reasonable to assume that when the Foreign Secretary got involved in her case, things might have been better. Unfortunately, it has made this situation very much worse. Why was another Cabinet Minister not briefed properly, and why did he say live on television that he did not know why she was there? What is going on at the heart of this Government?

As a direct result of these reckless comments, Nazanin is now in an increasingly perilous situation, which has given the Iranian authorities added cause to keep her locked up on false and arbitrary grounds. The Foreign Secretary’s apology is welcome, but he must reflect, as must the Government, on how they do their business and how they protect our citizens. What guarantee will he give that Nazanin will be granted diplomatic protection and be brought home? The Foreign Secretary and his colleagues must make it very clear that they are able to do their jobs and to protect our citizens.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Our priority is to secure the safe return of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and all other political considerations are entirely secondary. The only other thing we have to bear in mind is the safety and wellbeing of the other consular cases in Iran, and that is very important.

I said to Emily Thornberry that I am seeing Mr Ratcliffe tomorrow. I am in fact seeing him on Wednesday.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

As an ardent Churchillian, does my right hon. Friend accept that this has not been his finest hour? Before the Opposition make too much of that, however, may I urge them to avoid headlines such as that in The Independent online, which says, “Boris Johnson should resign if British mother stays in Iranian jail” for “even one more day”? The Iranian regime plays politics with hostages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if they believe that they can get rid of a British Foreign Secretary by jailing a hostage for longer, they will jail that hostage for longer? That link needs to be broken, not reinforced, by the Opposition today.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I think the whole House would agree that there is nothing more important than the safe return of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and, as I say, the protection of all other consular cases in Iran, and that trumps all political considerations in this country.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

My constituent Richard Ratcliffe wrote about his wife’s case in the Evening Standard:

“My complaint is not that her imprisonment has become a diplomatic incident this past week. It is that it wasn’t for the 19 months that came before.”

That shows the sheer dignity with which my constituent has been campaigning for his wife’s release for 19 months.

Richard has told me that their family’s lawyer, working together with the non-governmental organisation Redress, wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office two months ago with a legal opinion about Nazanin’s right to diplomatic protection. I know that the Foreign Secretary has already said to my right hon. Friend Emily Thornberry that he will consider diplomatic protection, but will he urge that a meeting takes place between the FCO and the lawyers, and will he give some indication of whether diplomatic protection will be given, as this could save my constituent’s life?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I said in answer to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury, I will be talking directly to Richard Ratcliffe about that issue on Wednesday.

Briefly, on consular protection, every day in some part of the world, a UK national or a dual national is detained, and I pay tribute to the consular work that the Foreign Office does across the world. A huge amount of work has been done on behalf of the constituent of Tulip Siddiq by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, who have met members of her family repeatedly and will continue to do so until we solve the problem.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I am very glad that the Foreign Secretary has made his statement today. However, does he agree that this poor woman, who is separated from her child, is being used a political football, not only—sadly—here, but in Iran, where the Iranian revolutionary guard is effectively fighting with the Khomeinite authoritarian regime in its own way? Would he consider calling upon people in our system who may be able to talk to the mullahs, perhaps asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed the Holy Father, to speak on behalf of this woman and seek to broker her release?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend speaks with great insight about the situation in Iran, and I assure him that no stone will be left unturned in our efforts.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

From my experience of trying to get two British nationals out of jail in Laos in 2009, what is needed when dealing with a very difficult country is absolute commitment and persistence —to go to bed every night worrying about what is happening to that British national in another country; to be very disciplined; and to make sure that every single member of the Government is speaking with the same voice. The Foreign Secretary could not possibly argue that that has happened in this case. What I really do not understand, though, is that when he made a complete mess of appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee, his office rang to correct other, completely incidental parts of the record, but still refuses to correct this part. Will he do so now? Otherwise, frankly, he will have learnt nothing from this.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I believe that I have corrected the record several times already and explained the position.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

The Foreign Secretary has referred several times to the other cases in Iran. Is there not a real problem with dual nationals, specifically in Iran and countries that do not recognise dual national status? Is it not time for a broader review of the issue, alongside the urgency of dealing with this specific case?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

It is one of the features of British consular protection that we give it to dual nationals, irrespective of whether their British nationality is recognised by the country in which they run into trouble. That is a mark of the dedication of our consular staff to their job. We will continue to work for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other difficult consular cases in Iran for as long as those cases are outstanding.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Foreign Secretary has rightly said that the priority for everyone should be the return of a wrongfully and inhumanely imprisoned mother, who has been separated from her child. That is welcome, but he also knows that words matter. Every time he says things such as, “My words were simply open to misinterpretation”, he provides a lack of clarity and sounds as if he is wriggling in a way that other people can exploit. For the sake of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, will he say unequivocally for the record, “I got it wrong”?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

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 from what I was saying at the FAC, that was my mistake. I should have been clearer—[Interruption.] With great respect, Members should listen to what I am saying. I should have been clearer. It was my mistake; I should have been clearer. I apologise for the distress and anguish that has been caused to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family. Our priority now is to do everything we can to get her out of Iran on humanitarian grounds.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

My right hon. Friend should know that he has the support of everyone on the Government Benches in his efforts to secure the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, understanding how difficult this case is. It has already been raised twice at Head of Government level, so it is very difficult to see how the Government could have done more. Does he agree that the prospects for her release are not being assisted by the rather unedifying spectacle of the pursuit of his scalp?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I think the paramount concern of everybody in this House is not narrow party political concerns, is it? It is not. It is the safe, secure return of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and that is what we are working for.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

While the right hon. Gentleman is in the business of correcting the record, will he correct his statement from last week that he had never met Joseph Mifsud, the UK-based so-called academic at the centre of the Trump-Putin collusion allegations, given the publication in the newspapers yesterday of a photograph of just such a meeting?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. There is all sorts of flailing and waving about. It is not statesmanlike and the source from which it emanates is a source from which I usually expect the most statesmanlike conduct. The right hon. Gentleman’s question suffers from the disadvantage that it is not even adjacent to—does not even hover over, does not buzz around—the urgent question that has been posed, so he will have to pursue other opportunities to favour the House with his thoughts, or to seek to extricate from the mind of the Foreign Secretary his own. On that point, we will leave it there for now.

Now, I am sure we can expect a wholly orderly question from Mr Rees-Mogg, very likely delivered in a sentence with no split infinitive. It might even be a series of sentences amounting to a lucid paragraph.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that generous introduction.

Will my right hon. Friend carry on his Palmerston-like approach to defending British subjects overseas, which is one of the first duties of Her Majesty’s Government? Does it concern him, as it concerns me, that the treatment of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran, barbarous as it is, is being given succour by the socialists on the Opposition Benches?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am afraid I think my hon. Friend underestimates the motives of the Labour party. I prefer to think that Labour Members are actuated solely by a concern for all our consular cases in Iran, in particular for the safe return of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Every Member of this House recognises that the Iranian regime is responsible for Nazanin’s detention and that the priority is to bring her home. However, our purpose here is to hold this Government to account for their actions. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me if he is confident in the quality and comprehensiveness of Foreign Office briefings, and that they are properly made available to other Government Ministers in advance of media appearances? If not, will he sort it out? If so, does he accept there is simply no excuse for Ministers to continue to get it wrong?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

FCO briefings are excellent. As the hon. Lady has heard repeatedly from me today, the Government are absolutely clear in their understanding of what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran and why it is absolutely unjustifiable that she be detained by that regime.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

Any mother forcibly separated from her daughter will suffer from mental health problems, but it appears that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now also suffering from a physical illness. She is a dual nation, which means she is British, so it possible for my right hon. Friend to appeal to the Government on humanitarian grounds for her release?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

That is, of course, exactly what I did the week before last in the FAC. It is probably not right to go into too much detail about what we know of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s medical condition. I will only say this: it is pretty obvious to anybody studying the case that she should be released on humanitarian grounds alone.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

Following the question from my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who also sits on the FAC, will the Foreign Secretary now write to the Committee and all its members correcting the record? While he is doing that, will he also clarify and correct the wrong report in The Sunday Times that he was badly briefed before his remarks to our Committee?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Two points: I have written to the Committee and I really cannot be responsible for any inaccuracies that there might be in The Sunday Times.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

I am delighted to hear Jo Swinson say that this is the fault of the Iranians, because it leaves us in no doubt about the politics being played here today. This is the worst possible situation. The fact that Mr Bradshaw tried to button in on the back of this shows how this sensitive situation is being held in contempt. I wish my right hon. Friend the very best in seeking to bring this honourable lady home, because she needs to be with her husband and family.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks for everybody in her constituency and the country, and I know that she speaks for Members on the other side of the House as well.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green

Over one year ago, the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention ruled that Nazanin’s detention was arbitrary and referred her case to the special rapporteur, and the UN called for her immediate release, yet it appears that our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office might not have done so. Will the Foreign Secretary please explain?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

That is a very good question. The answer is that we do not normally call for the release of consular cases, because very often that exacerbates their position. In this case, as the House knows, a couple of weeks ago I did call for her release on humanitarian grounds.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

How many other British subjects are jailed in Iran, and does my right hon. Friend have any idea what the Iranians want in return for this lady’s release?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We have dozens, if not hundreds, of cases around the world. I probably ought not to go into the exact number in Iran, but I can tell the House that we are working on behalf of all of them.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

When the House passed the Iran nuclear deal, I, along with others across the Chamber, expressed concern and requested that human rights and equality issues be part of the deal. What influence do the Government have in respect of the human rights and equalities of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the thousands of others held in jail there for the same reason?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The joint comprehensive plan of action does not cover the issues the hon. Gentleman raises, but common decency and humanitarian concern dictate that she should be released.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I remain a critic of the Iranian nuclear deal for many reasons, including the fact that human rights were not coupled with it. It was greatly disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition, who was paid to appear on Iranian Press TV, did not take the opportunity to criticise human rights in Iran, but instead agreed with and contributed to anti-Israel and anti-western bias. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me, and indeed Richard Ratcliffe, that his battling for his job will not help Nazanin come home?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I will resist the temptation to agree with my hon. Friend about any points that might have been made by the Labour party for or against Iran, because our priority now is simple: it is not to score party political points but to get Nazanin home.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Dr Lewis several times called Nazanin a hostage. Does the Secretary of State consider her to be a hostage?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a very difficult consular case, and that is how we are treating it.

Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon

A number of my constituents have contacted me expressing concerns about the case. Can my right hon. Friend assure them that he and the Government are doing absolutely everything possible to exert influence to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and does he agree that that should be our one and only priority and our one and only focus, in the Government and in the House?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I can also tell him that our ambassador —our excellent ambassador—in Tehran is working on the case daily.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Media)

The Foreign Secretary has said that he finally accepts that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on holiday, and that the whole country is now behind her. Does he include Michael Gove, who just yesterday said that he did not know why she was in Iran, and has he told the right hon. Gentleman that his loose-lipped comments were unacceptable and damaging in equal measure?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath actually made it very clear that he believed she was there on holiday—[Interruption.] He did say that: I watched the clip. He was very happy to accept that that was the case.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

What action can my right hon. Friend or the British Government take if Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not released? I am assuming that if we are in a hostage situation and if we do not win this case, there is a danger that others will be taken on a similar basis.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is right to ask that question. The answer is, I am afraid, that we must simply work diligently and flat out for her release.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on this and the rest of his conduct as Foreign Secretary in order to realise that his brand of clownish incompetence is a joke that is so longer funny, and consider being replaced by a competent politician who will attract the respect of the world and not the ridicule that he attracts?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I have said, I think that the best course for us all is to try to minimise the political point-scoring and concentrate on getting Nazanin home.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

Like all other Members, I want to see this poor lady, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, back home as soon as possible. However, while reflecting on the proposal that she be given diplomatic protection, will my right hon. Friend reassure us that no steps will be taken that would jeopardise the safety of British diplomats around the world today, and indeed the diplomats of any other western country, who must be our main priority in this case?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to the work of the British diplomats who put themselves in harm’s way and in danger across the world all the time. We will, of course, bear that consideration in mind.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

If the Government have been on top of this since day one, and if the briefings of the Foreign Secretary’s Department are so comprehensive, can he explain why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, his fellow letter-writer, said on “The Andrew Marr Show” that he would “take…her husband’s assurance” that the British-Iranian citizen was on holiday? That was hardly a ringing endorsement, and it was hardly a comment from someone who was up to speed with the facts. What is the Foreign Secretary going to do to ensure that his Cabinet colleagues are fully briefed?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I believe I answered that question a few moments ago.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that all the appropriate help and support is being given to Mr Ratcliffe and his family, given what a difficult period this is for them?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to Richard Ratcliffe and the indefatigable way in which he has campaigned for his wife’s release. I can tell my hon. Friend that the door of the Foreign Office has been continually open to him, and that he has had several meetings—many, I believe—with my fellow Ministers. He will continue to have full access until such time as we sort out the appalling case of his wife.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

The furthest that the Foreign Secretary seemed prepared to go in his response was to say that his words last week were “open to being misinterpreted”. I do not think that they were misinterpreted. Earlier, he asked from a sedentary position, “What else could I say?” He could simply say, “I got it wrong.” That would be helpful, because it would give a clear signal that the Government were serious about saying that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was not there for the purposes that he suggested last week. Will he just say, “I got it wrong”?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I have said many times both today and last week, it was wrong of me to say that she was there in a professional capacity; she was there on holiday, and I apologise again for the distress and anxiety that those words have caused. The most important thing we can do now is, I think, make sure that that point is clearly understood not just in this place but around the world, and work hard together—united, rather than divided, as a country—to get her home. That is what is in the best interests of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

In my experience as a diplomat, I believe there is no harder call than whether public or private diplomacy is more effective at helping Britons in jail abroad, and I say to the Opposition spokeswoman that there is a real danger today of conflating domestic political ambitions with a very sensitive situation of a British national in jail. Will my right hon. Friend therefore confirm that, as soon as today’s statement is over, he and our Foreign Office will work very closely with our friends in Iran to see how best this issue can be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone, in the quietest way possible?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend brings great experience and understanding of these issues and of difficult consular cases, and he is absolutely right that sometimes a quiet approach and quiet diplomacy can yield great results.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge

I agree with the Government that the only thing that matters is that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is taken out of prison because she is wrongly incarcerated, but that does depend on the Foreign Secretary raising his game, as Amnesty International suggested earlier this year, so will he commit after having met Richard Ratcliffe to come back to this place and make a statement making it absolutely clear that he will now do everything in his power to get Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe home?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am not certain that it would be right—or even if you would grant me permission, Mr Speaker—to make another statement after meeting Mr Ratcliffe, but I can tell the House that I believe it certainly would be appropriate to make a statement following any trip to Iran it might be possible to organise.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Members of this House accepting huge amounts of money for appearing on the Iranian state broadcaster raises the danger of giving legitimacy to a regime that is holding UK citizens without grounds to do so?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but again, if I may say so, that is for those on the Opposition Benches to answer, not me.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I spoke last week of the rollercoaster of emotions that the whole family are going through. From speaking to my constituents who are members of the family today, it is fair to say that over the weekend that has got worse, especially following reports of the deterioration in Nazanin’s health. Seeing her husband as soon as possible must be a high priority, too. I understand that in his phone call with the Foreign Secretary Richard Ratcliffe asked to accompany him on his forthcoming visit and also that he has full protection when he does. What progress has been made on that point?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I will be seeing Mr Ratcliffe in the next couple of days and we will explore all those issues in full.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Richard Ratcliffe’s representatives wrote to the Foreign Office requesting diplomatic protection for Mrs Ratcliffe over two months ago. What consideration was given to that request, and has the Foreign Secretary’s position on it changed since his appearance before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I said in answer initially to Emily Thornberry, on the question of diplomatic protection I will be talking to Mr Ratcliffe in person, and will then inform the House of how we intend to proceed.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

Constituents of mine, including the Glasgow west end Amnesty group, have consistently called for Nazanin’s release. The Foreign Secretary commented on this earlier, but will he make it clear how often, in in all the times her issue has been raised with Iranian authorities, her release has specifically been called for? Has that been just over the past couple of weeks, or longer?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We have consistently asked for her release on humanitarian grounds, and I know that the whole House will want to echo that call today.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee

Contrary to what he keeps saying, the Foreign Secretary’s words to the Foreign Affairs Committee were not capable of misinterpretation. They were clear but wrong, and whether deliberately or through carelessness, he put a British citizen at risk from an arbitrary and authoritarian regime. May I now give him a further chance to apologise, not for anything else but for the words that he got wrong in that Committee? His high office demands that he take responsibility.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

In fairness, I think the House will acknowledge that I have apologised repeatedly, not just for the mistake but for the way in which it was taken, and for any extra suffering or anguish that my words caused. But the most important thing, as I say, is that I think there is unanimity in the House today about our objective, and may I respectfully say that I think that that is where we should focus? That would be by far the most effective way of communicating the will of the British people to the people of Iran. We feel very strongly that, on humanitarian grounds, Nazanin should come home.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

While it is of course right and proper for the House to discuss this important matter, is it not also the case that it would be detrimental for us to do so by megaphone diplomacy? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it would be a sad irony if the Iranian Government were to get comfort and succour from some of the things that have been said in the House today?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

That is an extremely good point. It is indeed the case that most of our consular successes, including in Iran, are done by quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Should a British Foreign Secretary be careful, accurate and diplomatic in the words they choose at all times?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport)

A constituent who is a family friend of Nazanin attended my surgery at the weekend to convey her fears over Nazanin’s mental wellbeing, as she has now been separated from her daughter for more than 500 days. The Foreign Secretary said that he would visit Iran sometime later this year. Can he guarantee that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that Gabriella will see her mum by the end of this year?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can certainly say that no stone will be left unturned on behalf of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and indeed on behalf of all the other consular cases in Iran. What I cannot, alas, guarantee is that we will have the result that the hon. Gentleman wants, but it will not be for want of trying.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

If I were in jail in Iran for a crime that I had not committed, I could not hope to have a better Member of Parliament than my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will pay tribute to her. Mr Ratcliffe has close family in my constituency, including a well-respected former Lord Mayor of Chester. When the Foreign Secretary goes to Iran, will he undertake to take with him a delegation of Members of this House who have a constituency interest in this case? That delegation would surely include my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, who is a close follower of these issues—I join him in paying tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, by the way; she has been assiduous, and I was glad to have a meeting with her the other day—and I cannot guarantee at this stage that we will have such a delegation. One thing at a time, if I may say that.