Minister claims Boris Johnson's comments 'made no difference' to release of Nazanin

17 March 2022, 08:25 | Updated: 17 March 2022, 09:24

By Liam Gould

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has told LBC that Boris Johnson's comments did not hold back Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release from Iran.

Speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Mr Cleverly said Boris Johnson's comments as Foreign Secretary "made no difference whatsoever" to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release.

It comes as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe landed back in the UK, and has reunited with her family after spending six years detained in Iran.

Mr Cleverly said: “I don't think his comments made a single bit of difference whatsoever. There were a number of people held in arbitrary detention in Iran - people of other nationalities as well. The charges against them we have never accepted as legitimate".

Read more: 'Is that mummy?' Nazanin's tearful reunion with family after 6 year hell in Iranian jail

"The Iranians could, and should, have released them much, much earlier and frankly, they didn't need an excuse to do this.

"They have applied completely illegitimate charges to a number of people. I have no doubt his comments made no difference whatsoever."

Appearing before a select committee in November 2017, Boris Johnson, who was then Foreign Secretary, said: “When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit.

"I hope that a way forward can be found. I must say, I find it deeply depressing; I think it is totally contrary to the interests of the Iranian people for this to continue.”

The statement that she was "teaching journalism" was later deemed to be untrue by her family and her employer.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's employer Thomson Reuters Foundation, confirmed she was not working while abroad, and was instead on holiday with her daughter.

Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said in 2017 that she was “stunned by the incompetence" of Boris Johnson.

“By suggesting Nazanin was in Iran ‘training journalists’, as opposed to simply visiting her parents on a routine visit, he has endangered the cause to secure her release.”

But, when asked whether these comments had delayed Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release from prison, Mr Cleverly told Nick Ferrari today that "it made no difference".

Nick also asked Mr Cleverly what skillset Foreign Secretary Liz Truss brought to the table in organising the release.

"This has been a piece of work that every Foreign Secretary has worked on. She reaffirmed that it would remain a top priority for her tenure as Foreign Secretary.

"The change of government in Iran gave us an opportunity to reset the relationship. We had the first face-to-face ministerial meetings for the first time in over three years. I think those things have helped.

"I think this has been the culmination of a lot of work hard by a lot of people and a huge amount of dedication and passion by the families of those people incarcerated."

Ms Truss said that their release wasn't confirmed until "the last minute", but said the families were all in good spirits.

Mr Cleverly added that seeing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed from prison and reunite with her family was a good day.

"Yesterday was genuinely a great day at work."