Ministers refuse to use tribute to Iranian president drawn up by Foreign Office staff

Civil servants in the The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office drew up a statement expressing condolences over the “tragedy” of the death of the hard-line Iranian president – but ministers refused to use it.

The officials sent the statement to at least one minister in the department after it was confirmed that Ebrahim Raisi had been killed in a helicopter crash.

This is despite the fact that Raisi is blamed for thousands of killings which had earned him the nickname the “Butcher of Tehran”.

No minister used the form of words suggested by Foreign Office civil servants that included the word “tragedy”.

A government source said: “The Butcher of Tehran was responsible for the murder of thousands of prisoners of conscience and the brutal repression of his own people. That’s the real tragedy.”

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, later wrote on Twitter that he “would not mourn” the death of Raisi.

He was responding to a tweet from Charles Michel, president of the European Council, who had written: “The EU expresses its sincere condolences for the death of president Raisi and foreign minister Amirabdollahian, as well as other members of their delegation and crew in a helicopter accident. Our thoughts go to the families.”

Mr Tugendhat wrote: “President Raisi’s regime has murdered thousands at home, and targeted people here in Britain and across Europe. I will not mourn him.”

A Foreign Office source said such statements were drawn up by officials in the event of the sudden death of senior political figures. Ministers were under no obligation to follow officials’ advice and the policy of the Foreign Office was set by ministers and not officials.

On Tuesday, Britain’s representative on the UN Security Council was criticised after standing in silence to mark the president’s death.

Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash alongside Hossein Amirabdollahian, his foreign minister, earlier this week.

Under his leadership, Iran brutally suppressed protests against mandatory hijab laws, jailing around 20,000 demonstrators and putting more than 500 to death.

The protests erupted after Mahsa Amini, 22, died in the custody of the “morality police” after she was detained for allegedly breaching the strict Islamic dress code for women.

In the late 1980s, Raisi was part of a “death commission” in Tehran that ordered the execution of thousands of political dissidents.

Geoffrey Robertson, the human rights lawyer, said that this reign of terror “bears some comparison to the death marches of allied prisoners at the end of the Second World War”.

After he was elected president in 2021, Raisi supported Iran’s enrichment of uranium and hampered international access to the country’s nuclear reactors.

The body of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is brought to the revered Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom
The body of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is brought to the revered Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom - Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images

On Tuesday, James Kuriuki, the UK’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, joined his colleagues to observe a moment of silence for the late president.

The British diplomat stood alongside his American counterpart at the beginning of the 9,629th meeting of the Security Council, for the silence requested by Russia, China and Algeria.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, branded the period of silence a “disgrace”.

He wrote on social media: “The UN Security Council observed a moment of silence today in memory of the mass murdering Iranian president Raisi, who is responsible for the murder of thousands! What is next for the Security Council? A moment of silence on the anniversary of Hitler’s death?!

“The Security Council has simply become a danger to world peace.”

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Cabinet minister, said: “Diplomacy is a matter of judgment. We have to talk to regimes we don’t like but that doesn’t mean we ought to honour them in death.”

A Foreign Office source said the moment of silence happened so quickly that Mr Kuriuki did not have time to consult London.