Boris Johnson has refused to admit wrongdoing over his claim that an imprisoned mother in Iran was training journalists in the country at the time of her arrest in 2016.
The Foreign Secretary was urged by his Labour counterpart Emily Thornberry to state ‘simply and unequivocally’ that he got it wrong when claiming Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran in a professional capacity.
Mr Johnson apologised for the ‘distress and suffering’ his remarks caused, but stopped short of admitting outright that he made a mistake.
He told a foreign affairs select committee last week that he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was ‘simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it’ when she was accused of plotting to topple the Iranian regime, which she denies.
The comments were used in Tehran to justify threats to extend her jail term.
Ms Thornberry told the Commons: ‘Will the Foreign Secretary today accept the impact that his words have had, accept the distress that has been caused to Nazanin and apologise properly for that – not apologise for upsetting people, apologise for getting it wrong?’
‘If it is a matter of pride that the Foreign Secretary is refusing to admit that simply he has made a mistake, well then I feel bound to say to him that his pride matters not one ounce compared to Nazanin’s freedom.
‘After a week of obfuscation and bluster, will he finally take the opportunity today to state simply and unequivocally for the removal of any doubt – either here or in Tehran – that he simply got it wrong.’
Mr Johnson said he would repeat what he said last week, telling MPs: ‘Yes, of course, I apologise for the distress, the suffering that has been caused by the impression that I gave that the Government believed, that I believed, she was there in a professional capacity.
‘She was there on holiday and that is the view.’
It emerged earlier that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be granted diplomatic status in order to secure her release.
A spokesman for Theresa May said the prime minister is ‘engaged’ in the case, and that she had spoken twice to the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.
“‘The government’s position on this is clear,’ he said. “‘She was there on holiday. It wasn’t for any other purpose.’
Her husband, Richard, has said Boris Johnson did not apologise for his error when they spoke on Sunday.
Mr Ratcliffe told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “He was sorry for what Nazanin was going through, and for her suffering, and he said all of the country was behind her.”
Pressed on whether Mr Johnson said sorry for his comments, Mr Ratcliffe said: “He didn’t make the connection. He didn’t mention it.”
He said Mr Johnson is now ‘personally engaged’ in the case following controversy over his remarks and said he didn’t think he should resign as foreign secretary.
He revealed that his wife is ‘on the verge of a nervous breakdown’ over fears she may have breast cancer.
The 38-year-old saw a medical specialist on Saturday after finding lumps on her breasts, he said.
He urged Mr Johnson take him on his forthcoming diplomatic mission to Tehran amid the growing fears over her health.
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He added: ‘So that this is clear – for the media, government and particularly for authorities in Iran – as Nazanin’s husband, I do not believe it is in Nazanin’s interests for there to be any resignations.’
Mr Ratcliffe said the Mr Johnson ‘undertook to look seriously at the prospect’ of allowing him to join his planned visit to Iran in the coming weeks.
Environment secretary Michael Gove came under fire after following following Mr Johnson in appearing to cast doubt over her actions in the run up to her arrest.
Asked what she was doing in Iran, Mr Gove told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: ‘I don’t know.
‘One of the things I want to stress is, there is no reason why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be in prison in Iran, so far as any of us know.’
On Monday, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, where the family live, called on Mr Johnson to resign if Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe spends ‘even one more day’ in an Iranian jail.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Monday, Ms Siddiq called on the foreign secretary to ‘make amends’ for his words.
‘This issue isn’t political point-scoring for me; this about getting an innocent mother home,’ she said.
The couple’s daughter, now three, had her British passport confiscated during her mother’s arrest and has since been in the care of her grandparents in Iran.