The Foreign Secretary admits he was “wrong” about the British mother’s case as her husband reveals his unhappiness with ministers.
Boris Johnson has apologised to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for the “further anguish” caused by his error over her detention in Iran.
The Foreign Secretary admitted his remarks “could and should have been clearer” when he previously stated the British-Iranian national was training journalists in Iran prior to her arrest.
During a House of Commons grilling, Mr Johnson told MPs: “The British Government has no doubt Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran on holiday and that was the sole purpose of her visit.
“My remarks on the subject before the Foreign Affairs Committee could and should have been clearer and I acknowledge that the words I used were open to being misinterpreted, and I apologise.
“I apologise to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I have inadvertently caused them any further anguish.”
Mr Johnson’s comments about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe have sparked fears the 38-year-old could face a longer jail sentence.
Both the Iranian judiciary and media have used the Foreign Secretary’s words as justification for her imprisonment, leading to calls for Mr Johnson to resign.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who forced Mr Johnson to face MPs on Monday with her urgent question, took issue with the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion his comments were “misinterpreted” as she demanded he “unequivocally” state he “simply got it wrong”.
She told the Foreign Secretary his “pride matters not one ounce compared to Nazanin’s freedom”.
Responding, Mr Johnson said: “Of course I apologise for the distress and suffering that has been caused by the impression that I gave that the Government believe, and I believe, that she was there in a professional capacity.
“She was there on holiday. I do apologise, and of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity.”
Under further pressure from Labour MPs to confess to an error, Mr Johnson acknowledged his “mistake” and admitted: “It was wrong of me to say she was there in a professional capacity.”
Following Mr Johnson’s appearance in the House of Commons, Mrs Zagahri-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told Sky News he would not be joining demands for the Foreign Secretary to resign.
“It’s important that the Foreign Secretary stays to see it through and brings Nazanin home,” he said.
Mr Ratcliffe stressed he did not want to be seen as “some sort of political agitator” in Iran, which could allow the regime to “build a conspiracy”.
But Mr Ratcliffe did reveal his anger with the Government’s handling of his wife’s case, adding: “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not always been happy with the Government, the Government knows that behind closed doors, the Government knows that on the media and so on.
“I’m pretty transparent about that. But at the same time I’m not trying to push for anyone to lose their job, I’m just trying to bring Nazanin home.”
Monique Villa, the chief executive of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, also backed away from calling for Mr Johnson to go.
Ahead of Mr Johnson’s planned visit to Tehran in the next few weeks, she told Sky News: “Boris Johnson now has a mission and I want him to execute on his mission.
“He’s certainly the right person now to go and compensate for the enormous harm he has done.”
Ms Villa revealed Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works as a project manager for the charitable arm of the Thomson Reuters news agency, is “now very seriously worried” about lumps she has found on her breasts.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran’s capital since April last year, when she was arrested at Tehran airport as she attempted to return home together with her young daughter, Gabriella.
She is accused of plotting to overthrow the country’s regime.
Downing Street has said offering Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection is “one of the options” being considered.
The Government’s response to her plight came in for renewed scrutiny on Sunday after Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he did not know why Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran when she was arrested.