Boris Johnson claims Labour is "deflecting accountability" from Iranian regime over Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Catherine Neilan
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Johnson said he "could have been clearer" - but did not apologised (Source: Getty)

Boris Johnson has brushed off calls for him to resign over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, saying criticism of him was "deflecting accountability" from Iran.

The foreign secretary came under fire today after comments he made appear to have resulted in the British-Iranian woman doubling her jail sentence.

Johnson told the foreign affairs select committee last week that Zaghari-Ratcliffe “was simply teaching people journalism” in Iran when she was arrested in April last year. She is currently serving a five year prison sentence, but now faces new charges of “propaganda against the regime”.

Covertly teaching journalism is considered a crime in Iran. The charge has been strongly denied by her employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and her husband, who have consistently said she was on holiday with her daughter.

Today Johnson said: "My point was that I disagreed with the Iranian view that training journalists was a crime, not that I wanted to lend any credence to Iranian allegations that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been engaged in such activity. I accept that my remarks could have been clearer in that respect and I’m glad to provide this clarification."

Johnson added that his Iranian counterpart had confirmed his comments had "no bearing" on their decision to add to her sentence.

His statement fell short of an apology, instead telling the Commons his comments "could have been clearer". However after repeatedly being asked to apologise, the Uxbridge MP eventually said he was "sorry if any words of mine have been so taken out of context, or so misconstrued, as to cause any kind of anxiety to the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe".

Throughout the debate, he was challenged to resign.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the minister he should "engage his brain" and apologise for his “foolish words”. She added he should "show a bit of personal responsibility" and admit his current role "is simply not the job for him".

Others including Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Tulip Siddiq and Lib Dem Layla Moran, echoed her calls for him to step down.

But Johnson accused the opposition of trying "to heap blame on the British Foreign Office", and "deflect accountability from those who are truly responsible" - the Iranian regime.

This is just the latest scandal to engulf the foreign secretary. During the Conservative party conference he faced calls for his resignation after he suggested that Sirte could be the next Dubai once the "dead bodies" had been cleared away.

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