‘Human wrecking ball’ Boris Johnson faces Commons calls to resign over jailed Briton remarks

Boris Johnson faced a barrage in the House of Commons today as many MPs called for him to resign as Foreign Secretary over his statement about a British woman being held in an Iranian prison.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from North London, is serving a five-year jail sentence for her alleged involvement in a coup plot, but was summoned before an Iranian court at the weekend to be told she was now facing allegations of ‘propaganda against the state’.

This was after Mr Johnson told MPs last week that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran at the time of her arrest last year, something her employer and her family insist is incorrect.

Mr Johnson, who received a barrage of criticism from opposing MPs including being described as a ‘human wrecking ball’, initially stopped short of admitting his mistake and offering an unequivocal apology.

‘I accept that my remarks could have been clearer in that respect and I’m glad to provide this clarification,’ he said.

Eventually, he told the Commons: ‘Of course I’m sorry if words of mine have been misconstrued and caused upset to Nazanin’s family.’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella (Picture: PA)

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said Mr Johnson should show ‘a bit of personal responsibility’ and stand down.

She said Mr Johnson should apologise to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family, friends, employers and everyone else ‘who [has] been working so hard to obtain this young mother’s release for the distress and anguish that his foolish words have caused to them and to this woman in recent days’.

She added: ‘How many more time does this need to happen? How many times does the foreign secretary have to insult our international partners, damage our diplomatic relations, and now imperil the interests of British nationals abroad?

‘What will it take before the Prime Minister says enough is enough?

‘But if the truth is she can’t, because she doesn’t have the strength or authority to sack him.

‘How about the Foreign Secretary himself shows a bit of personal responsibility and admits that a job like this, where your words hold gravity and your actions have consequences, it is simply not the job for him.’

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Mr Johnson rejected the claim his remarks had worsened Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation.

He said that Ms Thornberry was ‘seeking to score political points’ and ‘deflecting blame, accountability and responsibility from where it truly lies, which is with the Iranian regime’.

He added: ‘It is towards releasing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, not blaming the UK Foreign Office, that we should direct our efforts.’

Earlier, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas tweeted a social media attack on the top-ranking minister.

She pointed to a series of his previous gaffes and said it was time for him to go.

‘Any other minister in any other government would have been sacked for the multiple errors of this human wrecking ball,’ she said.

Ms Lucas said Mr Johnson had endangered ‘the freedom of a British citizen in Iran’.

Theresa May’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson ‘is doing a good job’ as Foreign Secretary, but Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family fear this new charge levelled at her in an Iranian court could lead to a further five years’ imprisonment.

Caroline Lucas said it’s time for Boris Johnson to be sacked (Picture: PA)

The Iranian judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights later said Mr Johnson’s comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee had ‘shed new light on the realities about Nazanin’, contradicting her defence that she was in the country for a holiday at the time of her 2016 arrest.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said Mr Johnson’s comments in the Commons were ‘pretty much what I was asking for’.

He said ‘that’s not an acknowledgement of error but it is a clarification’ and an ‘important correction’.

Mr Ratcliffe said the Foreign Secretary should visit his wife while he is in Iran, and asked for a meeting with Mr Johnson before he heads to Tehran.

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to resign as foreign secretary (Picture: PA)

Downing Street said Mr Johnson would be ready to meet Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe in jail if that was possible.

Mr Johnson’s Cabinet colleague Liam Fox described his comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee as a ‘slip of the tongue’.

He told Sky News: ‘We have got to be very careful that we are not overreacting to this. I don’t believe that it is a serious gaffe.

‘I think people in the Iranian regime, which is a very brutal regime, are using this as an excuse to hold a UK citizen in the most tenuous of circumstances.’

Tory former minister Anna Soubry said: ‘This is appalling. In “normal” times Boris Johnson would have been sacked long ago.’