With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the release of British nationals from detention in Iran—and, in parallel, on the repayment of the International Military Services debt. After years of unfair and unjust detention by the Government of Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori have, this afternoon, finally been allowed to board a plane and leave the country. They are on their way home. They will land in the UK later today and will be reunited with their families. Morad Tahbaz has also been released from prison on furlough. I know that the whole House and the whole country will rejoice at this news, and share in the relief that their horrendous ordeal is over.
Nazanin was held in Iran for almost six years, and Anoosheh almost five. Morad has been in prison for four. Their release is the result of years of tenacious British diplomacy. I want to thank our Omani friends and Minister Badr for their help in bringing our nationals home. I pay tribute to the efforts of many in this House, particularly the hon. Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby). I pay tribute, as well, to my predecessors, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who have all worked hard to resolve this issue. Most of all, I want to express my admiration for the incredible resolve and determination shown by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families. I have been in contact with them throughout, as have our specialist consular teams. Their suffering has moved us all, and so does the prospect of their being reunited with their loved ones once again, after this long and cruel separation.
We secured the release, and Morad’s furlough, through intense diplomatic and political engagement at every level. We stepped up these efforts over the last six months. On becoming Foreign Secretary in September, I made resolving the issues of the continued detention of British nationals and the IMS debt personal priorities. In my first week, I spoke to the families of the detainees and met my Iranian counterpart, Minister Amir-Abdollahian. This was the first in-person meeting of a UK and Iranian Foreign Minister in three years. We agreed to work together to resolve the two issues in parallel. I dispatched a team of Foreign Office negotiators to hold intensive discussions with senior Iranian officials, in order to secure the release of our detainees. Officials travelled to Tehran for negotiations in October and November. A final round of negotiations took place in Muscat in February, resulting in this agreement.
Our ambassador in Tehran, Simon Shercliff, has also been in constant talks with Iranian Ministers and seniors officials. I spoke to Minister Amir-Abdollahian in October to progress the talks. In December, I met Minister Badr and secured Oman’s assistance in this important work. In February, I held discussions with Minister Amir-Abdollahian again, to drive the talks to a final conclusion. We will continue to push, with partners, to secure Morad’s permanent release and return home, which is long overdue. We will continue to support other British nationals in Iran who have asked for our help. We will work closely with our international partners to urge Iran to end its practice of unfair detention. It remains, and always has been, within Iran’s gift to release any British national who has been unfairly detained. The agonies endured by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families must never happen again.
Our efforts to settle the IMS debt have also reached their conclusion. After highly complex and exhaustive negotiations, the more than 40-year-old debt between International Military Services and the Ministry of Defence of Iran has now been settled. As the House is aware, this debt relates to contracts signed with the Iranian Ministry of Defence in the 1970s. Following the revolution of 1979, those contracts could not be fulfilled. I pushed officials to be as creative as possible in finding a way to resolve the situation, and they have worked round the clock to find a viable payment route. We have considered and exhausted many options in the process. I can tell the House that we have found a way to make the payment in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and with global counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering regulations. A sum of £393.8 million has now been paid, which will be available only for humanitarian purposes. The terms remain confidential to both parties. We have long said that we would find a solution to the IMS debt. Now, thanks to the tireless work of our officials, we have found a way to do so.
The repayment of the debt, in parallel with the release of our nationals, reflects steps taken by both the UK and Iran to resolve issues of serious disagreement between our two countries. We will continue to stand up for our interests, for the freedom and security of our nationals wherever they are, and for an end to arbitrary detention. But for now, to Nazanin and Anoosheh, I am pleased that in just a few hours’ time we will be able to say: welcome home. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving me advance sight of the statement. For too long, the Iranian Government have been depriving British nationals of their liberty to use them as political bargaining chips. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran for almost six years. Anoosheh Ashoori has faced the same fate for almost five years. The suffering they have endured during those years is unimaginable. The moments of laughter, joy and hope that they and their families have lost are irretrievable The Iranian Government are entirely to blame for these acts of cruelty. The whole House will be overjoyed that their detention has now come to an end, and that Nazanin and Anoosheh can return to British soil to be reunited with their families and take the breath of freedom once again. We must pay tribute to their tireless families, who have shown extraordinary strength, resilience and courage in the face of an unimaginable ordeal.
I also give credit to my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq for all her efforts over so many years, and to my hon. Friend Janet Daby for continuing to raise these issues. I give them credit for their tireless work in campaigning to secure the freedom of their constituents. We join the Government in thanking the Government of Oman for their help. I also give credit to the tireless work of British officials, as well as to the Foreign Secretary for her role in securing justice. She has shown more skills in diplomacy than her bungling boss, who appeared to do more damage than help while he held her current post.
Serious lessons need to be learned from this appalling episode. We need stronger international measures to combat the use of arbitrary detention as a political tool and to end hostage diplomacy. We also need a review of these cases. We need to understand what could have been done by the British Government to secure these releases sooner. I note that the Foreign Secretary said that she had
“stepped up these efforts over the last six months.”
I give her credit for that and welcome it, but I want to ask her what efforts were not taken by her predecessors that could have been. A review must also consider whether comments made by Ministers contributed to the extended detention. It is also good news that Morad Tahbaz has been released on furlough. Can the Foreign Secretary elaborate on the next steps to support his case? We note that other British nationals are still in detention and seeking help from the British Government. Can she update the House on the latest number and on what efforts are in place to help them?
We welcome the Government’s parallel announcement that the IMS debt has been repaid. We have long called for the Government to find a way to pay back that internationally recognised legitimate debt. What guarantees have the Government been given that this sum of money will be used only for humanitarian purposes? Today, though, let us focus on the main point of this statement. The whole House and the whole country can share in the triumph of welcoming Nazanin and Anoosheh home.
There have been years of effort and some fantastic people in the Foreign Office, including the leaders of the Foreign Office and the Foreign Office team, have worked tirelessly. What has changed in the past six months is that we have a new Government in Iran. I was able, when I went to New York in September and met Minister Amir-Abdollahian, to reset the relationship and be clear that we were serious about resolving the outstanding issues that Iran had, and the Iranians were clear that they were serious about resolving the outstanding issues we had.
I pay tribute to the fantastic Foreign Office officials, who have been tenacious in travelling to Tehran and getting this done in what are very difficult circumstances. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, paying money to Iran is not easy with the intensive sanctions regime in place, even though this is very clearly a legitimate debt. I can assure him that we have humanitarian guarantees. What I cannot do is go into the details, because that is confidential between the parties, but I have had this thoroughly checked out across Government to ensure that we have those guarantees that the money will be used for humanitarian purposes.
On the subject of Morad Tahbaz, who I spoke to at the end of last year when he was in prison, we have secured his release on furlough.[This section has been corrected on
In the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman said about welcoming the detainees home, that should be our focus today. They have been through an appalling ordeal; I could not imagine what it would be like to be without my family or my mother for so long. We must give the families the privacy they deserve, and thank them for their tenacity through this appalling ordeal that should never happen to anyone.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee, Tom Tugenhat.
I am hugely grateful for the extraordinarily welcome news that my right hon. Friend has brought to the House this afternoon. It is the most wonderful moment for many of us who have been campaigning. In particular, I pay huge tribute to not only the two hon. Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), but our friend Ann Clwyd, who spent an awful lot of time campaigning for this as well when she was in this House.
May I ask whether the Government have looked at some of the implications of the last time a ransom payment was made to the Iranian Government? That ransom payment was made by the US Government a number of years ago. About six months after they were paid, the Iranian Government took another six American dual nationals hostage and merely started the whole process again. Furthermore, sadly, the money paid was then spent on murdering hundreds of thousands of Sunni Muslims in Syria. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that that will not happen this time, that British citizens will be carefully warned of the dangers they face in visiting Iran, and that none of the payment will end up in weapons and ammunition to kill Syrians?
First, it is important to note that these are two parallel issues in our bilateral relationship, namely settling the IMS debt—a legitimate debt that the UK Government were due to pay—and settling the issue of the detainees. I am very clear that we need to work with our international partners to end the practice of arbitrary detention. In fact, we are joining a group with the Canadians and others to do just that, so we have a strong international response to countries using the practice of arbitrary detention to get their own way. I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we must end the practice, but we need to do so working with partners. That is a key point that we are discussing as part of the G7 Foreign Ministers track.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for sight of her statement. Goodness, in a week when we could all be doing with a bit of good news, I was very glad to read it. The SNP shares the happiness at the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz. We also pay tribute to them, their friends and their families for putting up with an intolerable situation. This has been a long time coming, and there are lessons to learn, but the Foreign Secretary, her Ministers and officials deserve their moment on this. This has been a great achievement, and I am very glad to see it happen.
We have the news that the historical debt will be paid as humanitarian aid, and, as I proposed that in this place on
I echo the concerns of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, that there is a risk of moral hazard. I think we are all agreed that this is historical debt that needed to be repaid, but others could take other lessons. What assessment has been made of the risk of moral hazard to British citizens going to Iran, but also in other places of risk? Perhaps the Foreign Office guidance needs to be updated in those situations. I would be grateful for an update on that, too, but congratulations.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I am afraid I cannot comment on individual cases, even to the extent of talking about the number of individual cases; I am afraid I cannot do that. He is right that we need to work against arbitrary detention. The best way to do that is as part of an international compact. That is why we are addressing this issue at the G7, and that is why I welcome the Canadians’ leadership on the issue. I have met my Canadian counterpart on several occasions and talked about how we move this forward to change the incentives. We need to fundamentally change the incentives for Governments, so that there is not an incentive to behave in this way.
I salute the leadership of the Foreign Secretary on this issue. As I know from my own experience, this is a fearsomely difficult diplomatic challenge, and it would not have been solved without sustained, personal interest right from the top, and she deserves great credit for that. Most of all, I commend the efforts of Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband. His quiet courage, his humility and his total determination never wavered throughout six years of hell, and he really was the bravest person I met during my time as Foreign Secretary. He is an inspiration to many people. Is the Foreign Secretary inspired by the united western response to the crisis in Ukraine, and is there something we can learn from that to unite as democratic countries to stamp out the vile practice of hostage taking?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about Richard Ratcliffe and the families of the detainees, and the courage they have shown in the face of appalling adversity, as well as those detained themselves, who have gone through incredible hardship, difficulty and just not knowing what the future would look like.
I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend did when he was Foreign Secretary and the leadership he has shown on this issue in his current role. He is completely right, and that is why we are working with allies, such as the Canadians, on unfair detention, because we need to take a common stance. The way that we have worked together on Ukraine—on sanctions and on supplying defensive aid—shows that we can do this in other areas, standing up for freedom, democracy and the rules-based international order, and changing the fundamental incentives that such regimes have in terms of the way they behave.
This is really a day of celebration for Anoosheh’s family. They will be so relieved when the plane hits the ground and Nazanin and Anoosheh are walking again on British soil. As Anoosheh’s Member of Parliament, I am thrilled beyond belief at his release, and for Nazanin. I am incredibly happy for Anoosheh’s wife, Sherry, and his children, Elika and Aryan, as well as their families and friends. I spoke to Sherry today—indeed, I spoke to her yesterday as well—and she told me that she has had several years of heartache and separation, all of which could have been avoided.
It is right that the issue of the long-standing debt of approximately £400 million was addressed and returned by the British Government to secure the freedom of our British citizens. I salute and thank the Foreign Secretary for making the IMS debt her priority. I also say, however, that it has been more than 1,650 days since Anoosheh was detained—days of his life that cannot be returned to him. I therefore ask her why it has taken the Government so long to secure Nazanin and Anoosheh’s release.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her tireless campaigning on the issue. I share her sense of anxiety. There were some very anxious moments this afternoon as we waited for wheels up in Tehran. As the plane departed, we knew that, finally, our detainees—Nazanin and Anoosheh—would be returning to the United Kingdom. We are very much looking forward to welcoming them later today. I, too, have spoken to the family and to Sherry. I know how hard it has been for the families and the courage that they have shown over these very difficult years.
What I will say about the process of securing the release of our detainees is that Foreign Secretaries, the Prime Minister and Foreign Office officials have worked tirelessly on it. There is a very dedicated team at the Foreign Office. Last summer, we saw a new Government in place in Iran, which gave us an opportunity to start afresh on some of the issues and to look at new ways we could do things in terms of paying the IMS debt, and we have been able to deliver on that.
We have to remember, however, that fundamentally it was the Iranian Government who put those people in detention. Ultimately, what we need to do, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, is change the incentives for Governments so that taking detainees unfairly is not seen as a proposition in the modern world. I pay tribute to Foreign Office officials who have worked tirelessly for years to make it happen.
The daughter of Morad Tahbaz is my constituent. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and her team for all their efforts. Can she assure me that she and her team will continue to work with the US to ensure that he may leave Iran? Can she tell me what being on furlough from prison practically entails?
The Tahbaz family and I have spoken today. It is a very difficult situation. Morad Tahbaz is of course a tri-national—US, UK and Iranian—and the Iranian Government treat him as being a US national as well as a UK national. We pushed very hard to get Morad out of prison. I spoke to him when he was in prison and he was in appalling conditions. I am pleased to say that I have been in touch today and he is now back at his house—with security in place—with his family in Tehran. We will continue to work to get him back home. We will be working with our allies, including the United States, to make that happen. I am pleased, however, that we have been able to secure his release from prison and his return home in Tehran.[This section has been corrected on
I think we have all been quite emotional today. Tears of joy will, I hope, be cried this evening. To think that Richard Ratcliffe will be able to welcome Nazanin and that she might even put Gabriella to bed or take her to school tomorrow for the first time—what a thought.
We were told for a long time that the £400 million that has been paid as a legitimate debt was not linked. I am glad that it has been paid and that, in any way, it has led to the detainees’ release. That is not an insignificant sum in terms of official development assistance spend, so can the Foreign Secretary assure me that it will not count towards our ODA spend and that it comes on top of other planned spending?
I can assure the hon. Lady that this comes from the Ministry of Defence. It had a long-standing debt that it has paid, in accordance with the international rules, including ensuring that this money is going to be spent on humanitarian purposes. I am pleased that Richard and Gabriella, who are in the Gallery today, will be able to see Nazanin again this evening. I pay tribute to Richard and Gabriella for their fortitude in such appalling circumstances.
At a time when we are every day reminded of the amazing resilience of a country, this is a great moment to be reminded of the resilience of individuals and families—in particular the families of the detainees who are coming back this evening. What an amazing achievement by everybody involved! It would be fair also to thank the new Iranian Government for their role in this as well.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether there are any lessons that we need to learn about dual nationals and advice given to them in travelling, not just to Iran but to other countries? Will she confirm whether the agreement that she has reached with her Iranian counterpart provides some form of pathway for other British detainees in Iran eventually to return, too?
Of course we will look, as we always do, to make sure that our travel advice is as good as possible. When I met my Iranian counterpart in September, I was clear that there were key bilateral issues that we needed to resolve, namely the detainee issue and also the IMS issue. Of course, we do not agree with Iran on many topics and we are not naive about the situation in Iran, but we need to absolutely make sure that we are protecting our British nationals. That is my top priority and that is what I will continue to work to do.
After six years, I can mention Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in the Chamber and not beg for her release. After eight urgent questions and countless debates, it is a pleasure to finally be standing here and talking about her. This would not have happened without the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe and North America, James Cleverly. Can I say thank you from the bottom of my heart? Thank you also to all the FCO officials, who I know worked tirelessly to make this happen.
I also want to thank Redress, Gibson Dunn, change.org, Amnesty International and the other organisations and individuals who worked so hard to release Nazanin. On behalf of Richard Ratcliffe, who texted me just before I stood up, I thank all the MPs across the Chamber because, whichever side of the House they are on, everyone worked hard to make sure that Nazanin was released. Whichever party and whichever constituency you represent, thank you—and thank you from Richard Ratcliffe as well. That includes all the MPs who visited Richard when he was on both his hunger strikes. I thank the community—especially in west Hampstead, where Nazanin’s home is—for always coming and supporting us.
Most importantly, I want to pay tribute to my constituent, Richard Ratcliffe, for his relentless campaigning. I also think that he has really set the bar high for all husbands. I say to Nazanin: welcome home, after six long years! I say to Gabriella that, this time, Mummy really is coming home.
I finish by asking the Foreign Secretary—I say once again how very grateful I am to her—whether she can update us a bit more on why Morad Tahbaz was not allowed to leave Iran. He actually lived in my constituency as well when he was in the UK, so I would like to hear an update on that.
I thank the hon. Lady for her tireless campaigning, and also for her patience in the last 24 hours. She and I have had a number of conversations, and it was only when we heard that the wheels were up in Tehran that we really knew it was happening. I was just extremely concerned to make sure that Nazanin and Anoosheh had really been able to leave Iran, and I am so delighted that we are going to be able to welcome them home today and that the families are going to be able to welcome them home today.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about Richard and Gabriella, and about the other families who have campaigned so tirelessly, and it has been an incredibly difficult time. She is also right to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe—he is now the Minister for the middle east, Europe and Russia, because he is so talented and gets so much done—who has held countless meetings to make sure this happens, and it has not been an easy process.
On the subject of Morad Tahbaz, the real issue is that he is a tri-national, and that is seen in Iranian eyes as meaning that the US is also involved. We are working very closely with the US, and we have secured his release from prison. Of course, we want to see him come home, and we will continue to work to achieve that with our US partners.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend, all the team at the Foreign Office and the legal team who I know will have worked extremely hard, and I thank everybody, including hon. Members, for their tireless work. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, in our adherence to the international rules-based system by paying the debt that it was adjudged we owed to Iran, we shall not waver in our belief that the arbitrary detention of nationals of whatever country is wrong and that we must redouble our efforts if we are to defend effectively the international rules-based system that she and I know is under unprecedented attack?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right that arbitrary detention is completely wrong. We are stepping up our efforts, together with our G7 colleagues, to work more closely together to challenge that type of behaviour internationally. Over the Ukraine crisis and the abhorrent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, we have seen the international community step up and democratic nations work together. We are determined to address all of those issues, including the issue of arbitrary detention.
I now call the person who mentioned this every Thursday, Valerie Vaz.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can I start by thanking the Foreign Secretary for all her work and her Minister, who answered all the urgent questions, as well as all the officials at the FCDO throughout the six years? I know my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) are delighted to get their constituents back, but there will be none more delighted than the Ratcliffe family—we all met the wider Ratcliffe family during Richard’s hunger strike—and Anoosheh’s family. The birth certificate of Morad Tahbaz, which I have seen, shows that he was born in Hammersmith, so I hope we can make extra efforts for him, but I would also like to ask the Foreign Secretary if she will ensure that Mehran Raoof, even though he may not have asked for help, is not forgotten. Mr Speaker, this was House business, and the House is delighted that Nazanin and Anoosheh are back in the loving arms of their families.
I thank the right hon. Lady, and I can assure her that every single British national who is unfairly detained overseas is on our minds, and we are working to see them released.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly received many plaudits for the work that she and her team have done. The people of South Ribble have been writing to me since I was first elected in 2019 urging her and her team to strain every sinew in difficult circumstances. It is not often that they can all go home from work putting such a smile on that little girl’s face. Will the Foreign Secretary join me in saying thank you from South Ribble for their efforts?
This has been a team effort, and as we have said, we have seen incredible fortitude and stoicism from the families and those detained in Iran themselves, and all of our constituents have of course been so deeply concerned about the terrible plight that Nazanin and her family have faced.
I add my congratulations to the Foreign Secretary for her tenacity and determination in resolving these issues. I hope she shows the same tenacity and determination in her negotiations to resolve the issues affecting Northern Ireland as well. I did not know the families, but I met Nazanin’s husband once outside the Foreign Office when he was conducting his hunger strike. He told me of the ups and downs, with hopes being raised and dashed continually. I am sure that the work done by the Foreign Secretary and her officials has given great help to those families who now have their loved ones released and hope to those still looking forward to having their family members released. I know that she had to link the payment of money to the release of these hostages, but has she any concerns that linking those two things together might send out the wrong signal to criminal regimes across the world who have no hesitation in using humans in this way?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I assure him that I will not give up until I have fixed the Northern Ireland protocol. These long-standing issues with Iran have been treated in parallel. I have been clear, and the Government have been clear, that this is legitimate debt that the UK Government should pay. That is right, and that is what we have done. We found a way of doing that despite the various sanctions regimes in place, and we have made sure that it is spent on humanitarian support.
It is excellent news that three British nationals have been released from Iranian prisons today. I met Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, several years ago at a reception hosted by you, Mr Speaker, in this place to hear directly of her plight and detention, so I am delighted that she has finally been released and is on her way home. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all her work. Will she confirm that her Department will continue to support other British nationals in Iran who have asked for our help?
We will continue to support British nationals in Iran. All the families have been provided with consular support and support from our officials, and I am proud of the support that they have offered. Of course, we will continue to work to ensure that those unfairly detained can return home.
This is brilliant, excellent news. I thank the Foreign Secretary for her statement and congratulate the hon. Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on the work that they put in. Can she give us any indication of when she expects Morad Tahbaz to be released? Being on furlough is not a satisfactory situation, and he obviously has the right to return to this country, as do others.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned that she cannot name all the dual nationals or British nationals being held. I understand that, but one in particular—Mehran Raoof, a labour rights activist—has been publicly named by Amnesty International and by Redress, and he is apparently on a long-term prison sentence. What efforts are being made to secure his release? In the changed relationship that we now have with Iran—that is welcome—will there be a robust human rights dialogue? Detention of foreign nationals is appalling, but many other human rights issues deserve to be and must be raised with Iran. I hope that this will be the start of a serious dialogue, which hopefully will improve the human rights of everybody.
On the individual whom the right hon. Gentleman named, I must respect the individual’s request of whether their case should be raised in public. That is why we mention publicly only those individuals who have asked to be named. Of course, we continue to supply support to all British nationals who have been unfairly detained. As I said, there are many issues over which we do not have agreement with Iran, but I will continue to talk to the Iranian Foreign Minister and work with him to ensure that we do resolve issues between us that pertain to the British national interest.
This news is like sunshine on a rainy day. Congratulations to all involved. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that particular tribute needs to be paid to Sayyid Badr and the Omani Government, who are establishing themselves as interlocuters and mediators par excellence in the region? Will she say what assurances she has got that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will simply not replace Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad with other dual nationals? Will she reiterate her warnings to dual nationals who may fall within the Iranian jurisdiction that they should tread very carefully indeed?
Minister Badr and the Omani Government have been incredibly helpful in assisting us with this issue and I want to pay tribute. They flew the detainees out to Muscat. I have been in regular touch with Minister Badr since I first met him in December last year and they have been instrumental in making this happen. They are true friends of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend is right in what he says about dual nationals, but fundamentally we need to change the incentives on the system so people can travel freely without fear of unfair detainment.
May I join other Members in thanking the Foreign Secretary, her officials, my two hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), and everyone who has brought this wonderful day to pass, made all the sweeter by the smiles we see looking down on us from the Gallery? The Foreign Secretary said that the debt was paid in parallel, but we all know that for the Government of Iran it was always sequential. Given what she said about the work she is doing with other G7 members, including Canada, to try to deal with this, what practical steps is she hoping to secure through that to ensure that in future it is much, much more difficult for Governments to engage in hostage-taking for political purposes?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to change the practice of countries detaining other countries’ nationals unfairly. That is precisely what we are working on with our Canadian counterparts and others, but we need to act in concert to change the system and change the reactions we give overall. I cannot say more at this stage, but I hope to be able to say more soon.
This is a day of great joy and relief, not just for those flying home today but for their families, some of whom it is wonderful to be joined by today, and their wider families, including members of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family who live in my constituency. I pay huge tribute to all involved, including, of course, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Opposition Members who have done such a tremendous job on behalf of their constituents. There will be many lessons wrongly drawn from this sad episode. Can I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is one lesson that could be correctly drawn? The fact that these people were imprisoned in Iran is the fault of the Iranian regime. The difficulties that the UK Government have faced repaying the IMS loan are also the fault of the Iranian regime, because they largely relate to sanctions imposed upon the Iranian regime. Is this a lesson of wider application in the world today that if you find yourself subject to international sanctions, you will find that there are long and expensive consequences?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very effective point about sanctions. What we are seeing today in Russia—the fact that the Government of Russia are struggling to finance their appalling war in Ukraine, the fact that people are struggling to secure the goods and services that they have become used to, and that the country is being returned to something akin to the Soviet era—shows that sanctions do work and are effective.
The joy and relief will be felt by all our constituents who have been fully behind Richard Ratcliffe and the families getting their loved ones home. Given that there has been a solution in plain sight which the Foreign Secretary has been able to use today, does she agree that it should never again take two hunger strikes, the terms of three Prime Ministers, five Foreign Secretaries and five Ministers for the middle east to get a solution for people in this situation in future?
This is an issue that the Foreign Office has been working on tirelessly for many years. Given that there was a new Government in Tehran last summer, there was an opportunity to reset the relationship and start working on the issues afresh. We took that opportunity, but we were able to do so only because of the tireless work of Foreign Office officials. As my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright pointed out, it was not easy to pay the IMS debt in the current scenario. We found a way to do it, and I am very pleased that we have done so.
The plaudits that my right hon. Friend is receiving today are richly deserved, and she and the other Ministers and officials deserve the warm applause of the House. She says that she cannot go into all the details of the humanitarian aid, but can she assure us that it will be humanitarian aid that Iran will spend in-country? The definition of humanitarian aid will change; we know that Mr Putin is calling for allies in the middle east to help him in his “humanitarian” work in Ukraine, and we need to make very certain that these sums are not deployed in that arena.
While I have my right hon. Friend’s attention, as she has a magic wand to solve very long-standing problems, will she now turn her attention to Libya, and to redress for the victims of IRA terrorism in Libyan-sponsored atrocities?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the definition of humanitarian aid in the agreement is certainly not the definition of humanitarian aid to which Vladimir Putin would subscribe.
I had the privilege of meeting Richard Ratcliffe when he was on hunger strike last winter. His dignity, courage and resolve were humbling, but I recall his frustration over delay after delay after delay. A mother and their child should never be separated for all these years. The Foreign Secretary must ensure that lessons are learned so that, as she says, it never happens again. I would be grateful for her comments as to how she intends that to happen.
We are all very pleased that the families are able to be reunited. In dealing with the issue, on which I have been working since I became Foreign Secretary in September, there are a lot of complexities. There are difficulties in working, given the sanctions regime and given the process that needs to be gone through. Hours and hours have been put into the meetings, the phone calls and getting this right. Right up until the last minute, which came at 1 o’clock this afternoon, it has been touch and go. There is an incredible amount of complexity lying underneath what we have to do and what our counterpart Governments have to do to effect these types of change, but I am very clear that we have some excellent officials who have really done the business on the ground in Tehran.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and North America on their work in delivering this in short order after such a long period of frustration, as well as those colleagues who have been campaigning for it. Richard Ratcliffe must feel unalloyed joy today that the love that he has shown to his wife has allowed him to campaign through adversity to deliver this day. I therefore pay tribute to him completely.
As people are dying in Ukraine to fight for freedom, we are learning a lesson that surely has application here: when states behave beyond the rule of law, we need to act swiftly and immediately isolate them with sanctions. If the unlawful taking of prisoners in a case like this ever happens again, the west must unite—the whole world must unite—in immediately bringing sanctions against those countries such that the pain they feel outweighs any gain they think they may receive.
My right hon. Friend is entirely correct. That is why it is so important that the west and the wider free world have stepped up in the Ukraine crisis. For too many years we did not do enough, and blind eyes were turned to some egregious practices. For that reason, as well as working together to impose sanctions on Russia for its appalling actions in Ukraine, we are working together on the issue of unfair detention to ensure that we protect the rules-based system and defend freedom and democracy around the world.
This is very good news, but it is not the end of the matter. Even if the Foreign Secretary will not discuss individual cases, she will be aware that a number of UK citizens and dual nationals are still being held in Iran, some of whom, for good reasons, will not be as well known as Nazanin. Will she meet the relevant Members of Parliament and the families whose relatives are still detained in Iran, and what leverage does she think she will have now that the debt has been paid?
Of course I will continue to meet the families of detained individuals, and I will continue to work to get those people released from unfair detention.
The Foreign Secretary is to be commended for achieving this joyous outcome, but will she join me in commending the thousands of ordinary people across the United Kingdom who do not know Nazanin or Richard or Anoosheh personally but have stood firmly with them throughout all these years, and have kept us MPs honest by pursuing us relentlessly, urging us to raise the issue in Parliament and engage with Richard in his hunger strikes and other efforts? Does that not show that it is always worthwhile for members of the public to engage with an issue, however complex that issue may be?
This issue has touched the hearts of the British public, as we all know from what we have received in our postbags. Who could fail to be moved by the courage and tenacity shown by the families, but also by the suffering that has been undergone by those who have been unfairly detained and those who have been separated from them for so many years? It is clear from the offers of homes for Ukrainian refugees that the British public are big-hearted, and want to see our citizens thrive and to see these families reunited.
May I add my congratulations and thanks to the Foreign Secretary and her team, and in particular to my hon. Friends for their tireless campaign and to Mr Ratcliffe, whom I have met on several occasions in difficult circumstances?
We know that Iran is a difficult and multi-layered country with which to have dealings. Moving beyond today’s announcements, may I ask whether there is any hope that it might progress towards a more accommodating arrangement with the rest of the world, and that we might be able perhaps not to normalise but slightly to improve relations in the long run?
In resolving the issue of the IMS debt and resolving the issue of these particular unfairly detained people, we have dealt with two of the major issues facing the UK and Iran. Of course we have very large concerns about the possibility of Iran’s acquiring a nuclear weapon, and we are currently working with partners to prevent that from happening, because we know where it can lead when a nuclear state poses a danger to the world. That is our focus: working with partners, and, of course, engaging directly with the Iranian Government, as I have done.
May I, too, thank the Foreign Secretary, and also her predecessors, who have been badgered for many years, and particularly for the last six? I am so pleased that she made this one of her priorities. May I also pay tribute to the families of Anoosheh and Nazanin, especially Richard Ratcliffe and the family, whom I met outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office during the hunger strike?
Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the British negotiating team in Tehran, who have been working so hard to get the three British citizens released, and may I ask whether she thinks that this is the beginning of a new relationship with Iran for the long term?
My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the family, to Richard Ratcliffe for all his campaigning work and to our negotiating team, who have worked day in, day out, including in Tehran and Muscat, to get this done—that has been really important.
The future of Iran is a choice for the Iranian Government. We do not want to see Iran acquire a nuclear weapon; we want to see a world in which Iran plays a more positive role. Of course, we will work to encourage a more positive trajectory.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for her welcome words on arbitrary detention, which go to the heart of it. Of course, arbitrary detention is not the sole preserve of Iran. It is also a common practice in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where it is reported that there were a further three executions today while the Prime Minister was in the country. Can the Foreign Secretary give me some assurance that we will pursue the issue of arbitrary detention and other human rights abuses with equal vigour wherever we find them?
We approach our relations with all countries without fear or favour. We are prepared to be honest with countries about human rights practices, which is exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing on his visit. It is important that we engage with Saudi Arabia. We have a major issue, as everyone in this House knows, with a very aggressive Russia threatening European and, indeed, global security, and we need to work with other countries to find alternative sources of oil and gas. It is important that we deal with everybody.
Today is a day of celebration, albeit tempered by the recollection of the suffering endured by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families over a long period. Some people may be concerned about the parallel payment of almost £400 million, so will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that this money was legitimately owed to Iran and that nobody should be under any misapprehension that this Government would pay ransoms for people who are illegally detained anywhere in the world?
My hon. Friend is right. We have always been clear that this is legitimately owed money that the UK should pay. Due to the complexities, this has been a difficult issue. We have been challenging in looking at ways to pay the money, ensuring of course that it is spent on humanitarian purposes—that has been critical. We have found a solution to resolve that issue.
Like other hon. Members, I am truly delighted at the release of Anoosheh and Nazanin. I pay tribute to Richard, who has been a tower of strength in this whole unfortunate saga. I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on her role, and I congratulate her creative civil servants who found a way to repay this historical loan.
As we often say, where there is a will there is a way. That has certainly proved to be the case, but may I ask about the role of the Government of Oman? I understand from the Foreign Secretary that the Government of Oman played a very positive role, but has the role been such that the money was transferred to Iran via Oman’s central bank?
Our Omani friends have been extremely helpful in working with us to help transport the detainees between Tehran and the United Kingdom, and in working with us on some of the practical arrangements. We have, of course, also had direct contact with the Iranian Government, but the partnership with Oman has been truly successful in helping this to happen.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on her work to secure the safe release and return of Nazanin. Iran’s malign influence remains a threat to British interests in the middle east and to the interests of our allies, most notably Israel. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that any new agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons programme prevents it from acquiring nuclear weapons?
It is correct that we have very strong concerns about Iran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon. That is why we have been working so closely with our allies, through the joint comprehensive plan of action, to get a new deal to stop that acquisition. That is vital. We want Iran to take a different path—a better path. That comes through a combination of being absolutely clear what the penalties are—the sanctions—and having a positive choice that Iran can make about its future.
I warmly commend the Foreign Secretary and all her team, both ministerial and her officials, on this result. Apricity means the feeling of the sun on one’s face in winter, and I am sure that for Gabriella and for Richard today is a day of apricity, with sun on their faces in a time of winter. However, authoritarian regimes such as those of Iran and Russia do two things very similarly; arbitrary detention, which the Foreign Secretary has already spoken about; and pumping their propaganda around the world, through state-funded broadcasters. In Iran’s case, that is Press TV—thank goodness it has not got a licence here any longer. Anyone who has taken money from Press TV should be giving it back. Should exactly the same not apply to Russia Today? Is it not time RT was closed down, so that we stopped hearing the propaganda from Russia about Ukraine? Shouldn’t everyone who has taken money from RT give it back or give it to Ukrainian refugee support?
The hon. Gentleman is right about state-funded propaganda and the fact that we do not see a free media in many parts of the world. In some cases, social media is breaking that up; we have seen some of that in Russia, although it is now being cracked down upon. That is one reason why the Government have established the information unit: to help give the Russian people the truth about what is happening in their own country. I know that my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary is looking at precisely the issue he talks about and I am sure she will be listening carefully to his question today.
This is the most joyous of days for this House and the country, and for a family who have missed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a wife, a mum, a daughter and a sister-in-law. In Newport West, this case is personal, because Richard Ratcliffe’s sister, Rebecca Jones, is a constituent of mine, and I have watched in awe as she fought to get Nazanin home, alongside the rest of the family. I say to the Minister that for all the joy today, a case like this must never happen again. So will she ensure that lessons are learned so that no other family has to go through such a dreadful separation from a loved one in the future?
I congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituent on the work she has done to campaign for Nazanin’s release. The hon. Lady is right: we cannot let this happen again. This needs to be about what we do as the United Kingdom and how we work with our international allies to make sure that there are not incentives in place for these regimes to carry out arbitrary detention.
It is right and proper that the House congratulates the Foreign Secretary and the ministerial team on delivering on real diplomatic action—it is great to see. We congratulate the hon. Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) on a job well done as parliamentary representatives; it is a great honour to sit in any Parliament and that is the job of an MP. We also congratulate the families, who are watching. I was interested to hear the Foreign Secretary talk about arbitrary detention and how we can work with other countries to ensure that not only dual nationals or tri nationals, but full UK nationals are not arbitrarily detained, no matter our friendships with countries. Further to the point raised, I believe, by Andy Slaughter, who is no longer in their place, the Foreign Secretary said that they would be meeting families who are detained. In that spirit of collaboration and working together, will the Foreign Secretary consider meeting me and the family of Jagtar Singh Johal to understand the issue of arbitrary detention for other states? It would be a most welcome deliberation for the future.
As I said, I have raised this specific case, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it further.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
So well done to the Foreign Secretary, her Ministers and her Department, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), whose work on this has been indefatigable. I do not want to strike a discordant note, but in relation to what the shadow Foreign Secretary, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn and Sammy Wilson have said about this deal, I think all of us in Parliament would be happier if there had been some briefing and scrutiny, even on Privy Council terms.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We do have an arrangement, and it was part of the very careful negotiations that have taken place over the past six months that this deal would be kept confidential. We have the humanitarian assurances on the IMF front and I will see what I can do within the bounds of that. However, the United Kingdom is a country that keeps its word and we have given our word to keep this confidential.
This is a good day. The release of Nazanin and Anoosheh is extremely welcome news, and I thank the Foreign Secretary and her officials. I pay tribute to the families for their bravery, courage and resilience. I did not want to have to see Richard go on a third hunger strike. Given the length of time they were detained, and the fact that other dual nationals continue to be detained in Iran, how will the Foreign Secretary ensure that the Government learn lessons from these cases, including in relation to the provision of consular services for UK nationals and their families more generally?
We have seen some very good consular services in these and other cases. The lesson to be learned is the broader lesson about arbitrary detention and how we work with our allies and partners to stop it. I will update the House on the progress of the arbitrary detention work that we are undertaking with the Canadians. We first discussed this back in November at the NATO Foreign Ministers summit, we discussed it again at the G7 meeting, and we are making some real progress, so I would be happy to have further discussions in due course.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier today, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister whether the Prime Minister had ever asked anyone to urge the security services to revise, reconsider or withdraw their assessment of Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia. He replied that the suggestion was “sheer nonsense”. But this afternoon the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser has stated in writing that the Prime Minister was told that the intelligence services had “serious reservations” but “cut a deal” to provide the Commission with a “sanitised” version of the advice. The ministerial code requires Ministers to correct the record if they inadvertently mislead the House, as the former Downing Street chief of staff has alleged. So can you tell me, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether you have had any notice from the Deputy Prime Minister that he intends to come to the House to correct the record, and if not, can you advise me about how the House can get to the truth of this very serious issue?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of it. As she will know, the Speaker is not responsible for ministerial answers. She is quite correct that the ministerial code requires Ministers to correct any inadvertent errors. Those on the Government Front Bench—I am looking to the Whip and to the Ministers—will have heard her comments, and if an error has been made in this instance, I hope that it will be corrected speedily. Of course the Minister concerned may take the view that there is no inaccuracy. I am quite certain that the right hon. Lady will find ways to pursue the matter in any event.