Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Part of the debate – 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

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?