BORIS JOHNSON apologised in the Commons yesterday for suggesting a British mother jailed in Iran had been training journalists there.
The foreign secretary returned from Brussels to answer an urgent question from Labour after his remark led Tehran to warn that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s five-year sentence could be increased.
He faced cries of ‘shame’ and ‘resign’ from Labour MPs before saying: ‘I do apologise, and of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity.’
Mr Johnson added he would discuss the possibility of giving Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection in a meeting with her husband Richard Ratcliffe tomorrow. The use of the status would raise her plight from a consular case to a formal dispute between two countries and could speed her release.
Mr Johnson also said Mr Ratcliffe ‘has requested to come to Tehran’.
‘I don’t know whether that will be possible but we will see what we can do,’ he said.
British-Iranian Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, was jailed for plotting to topple the regime — which she denies — after being arrested at Tehran airport at the end of a trip to visit family with young daughter Gabriella. Mr Johnson’s comments were seized on by Iran as evidence that she was trying to spread propaganda.
He told the Commons: ‘I apologise for the distress, the suffering that has been caused by the impression that I gave that the government believed she was there in a professional capacity. She was there on holiday.’
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, Tulip Siddiq, said on Sunday that Mr Johnson should resign if the Londoner spends ‘even one more day’ in jail as a result of his comments.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the Commons the ‘training’ remark earlier this month had led to damaging TV coverage about the case on Iranian state TV, as well as renewed court action.
Speaking before he apologised, she said: ‘If it is a matter of pride that the foreign secretary is refusing to admit that he has made a mistake, well then I say to him that his pride matters not one ounce compared to Nazanin’s freedom.’
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has found lumps in her breasts while in prison.
She is said to have been ‘hugely distressed’ when told of Mr Johnson’s damaging remark.