PM accused of ‘dismal failure’ in not securing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release

PA Reporters
·3-min read

The Prime Minister has been criticised for a “dismal failure” in trying to secure the release of British-Iranian “hostage” Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The mother of one was handed a fresh jail term of one year and a year-long travel ban in Iran on Monday, which her husband Richard has described as “open-ended detention”.

Labour’s Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn), Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, questioned what effort the Prime Minister has put into releasing her constituent, before telling the Commons: “From where I’m standing, I’ve seen no evidence on the part of the Prime Minister so far.

“At the heart of this tragic case is the Prime Minister’s dismal failure to release my constituent and to stand up for her, and his devastating blunder in 2017 when he was foreign secretary – when he exposed his complete ignorance of this tragic case, and put more harm in Nazanin’s way.

“The Prime Minister did not even arrange for UK officials to attend Nazanin’s recent court hearing, which might have ensured she got a free and fair trial. He still hasn’t got his Government to pay the £400 million debt that we as a country owe Iran.

“We MPs might be many things but we’re not naive. We cannot deny the fact that Nazanin was handed a fresh new sentence a week after the IMF’s debt court hearing was delayed.”

Britain is thought to owe Iran as much as £400 million over the non-delivery of tanks in 1979, with the shipment stopped because of the Islamic revolution.

Ms Siddiq also asked: “Will the minister acknowledge that Nazanin is being held hostage by Iran and is a victim of torture?”

Speaking during an urgent question called in response to the further detention, Ms Siddiq called on the Government to “get Nazanin released, stand up to Iran and bring my constituent home”.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Ms Siddiq: “Her anger and frustration is misdirected because Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British dual nationals held in arbitrary detention are being held by Iran. It is on them.”

He added the UK will not accept dual nationals being used as “diplomatic leverage”.

Conservative former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt also told the Commons it is “all bark and no bite” if there are no consequences for Iran over “hostage diplomacy”.

He said: “I want to ask the minister what are the consequences going to be for Iran of this hostage diplomacy other than words, because we know they don’t fundamentally care what we think or what we say.”

Mr Hunt added: “Ultimately what are the consequences going to be for Iran of continuing with hostage diplomacy because otherwise it’s all bark and no bite.”

The new jail term comes amid tensions in the Middle East over Iran’s nuclear programme, with the country abandoning all limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in the wake of former US president Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the accord.

During a call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last month, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and Iran’s breaches of its nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).