Boris Johnson, the UK's gaffe-prone foreign secretary, has called his Iranian counterpart to explain his comments surrounding a jailed British woman that could see her prison sentence extended by five years — while clinging onto his job.
The UK foreign secretary said he would call Tehran to retract his claim made to a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, November 1, that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran at the time of her arrest last year, something her employer and family insist is totally false and incorrect.
The foreign office spokesperson hinted that he would now be contacting his opposite number in Tehran to clarify his comments.
"The UK will continue to do all it can to secure her release on humanitarian grounds and the foreign secretary will be calling the Iranian foreign minister to raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented," the spokesperson added.
Johnson has reportedly accepted his remarks could have been clearer and said to visit Iran in coming weeks to discuss all consular cases.
Crucially, Downing Street has refused to back Mr. Johnson's handling of the case, especially after the Iranian authorities seized on his comments as being the justification needed to extend the jail sentence imposed on the Briton.
It has also been reported that senior Conservatives are preparing to call for his sacking unless he quickly backs down over his blunder. A number of Tory party figures have been in touch with prime minister Theresa May, insisting she take immediate action to remedy the situation, or else, risk a public backlash.
With pressure growing on him to somehow salvage the situation, having been isolated also by his cabinet colleagues over the affair, the UK foreign office issued a statement, saying Mr. Johnston's comments may have been "misrepresented" and they provide "no justifiable basis" for additional charges.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, insisted Johnson should resign if it is shown his actions have damaged the British woman's prospects of freedom.
He won’t. He never has before. Man with no honour. #blagger— Whinge el Brittania (@WhingeB) November 6, 2017
In a letter to him, the Labour politician said that although his comment was not a deliberate error, it "reveals a fundamental lack of interest or concern for the details of Nazanin's case and the consequences of your words."
"In the event that your actions have indeed cause irreparable harm to Nazanin's prospects of freedom and result in her sentence being lengthened, I hope and trust that you will take full responsibility for that, in both a moral and political sense, and consider your position accordingly," Thornberry told Johnson.
Speaking in the Commons, Johnston refused to apologize over the mistake by insisting he is not to blame.
Despite repeated shouts of "disgrace," the foreign secretary rebuffed repeated calls for him to acknowledge his mistake made during evidence to MPs last week.
Instead, he targeted Emily Thornberry, saying:
"It is simply untrue for her to say, as she has said today, that there is any connection whatever between my remarks last week and the legal proceedings under way against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Tehran today."
After almost one hour of questioning, Johnston said:
"I'm sorry if any words of mine have been taken out of context and misconstrued to cause anxiety to Nazinin's family."
MPs have also taken to social media to express their views on the case:
Why arent Labour SCREAMING for Boris ans Priti Patel to be sacked.. your impotence is emboldening the worst tory govt in history— Wok Chi Steve (@Wok_Chi_Steve) November 7, 2017
In normal times, Johnson would not have been Foreign Secretary in the first place.— Ordinary Lulu (@lulumr) November 7, 2017
No statement from Boris Johnson on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The Secretary of State MUST correct the record. https://t.co/EniXhhlx5i— Catherine West (@CatherineWest1) November 7, 2017
During her original trial, Zaghari-Ratcliffe argued that she was not working in Iran at the time of her arrest, but had been visiting the country to show her infant daughter Gabriella to her grandparents.
The British foreign secretary gave a different account to the parliamentary committee, however, saying:
"When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I stand it. (Neither) Nazinin Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor her family has been informed about what crime she has actually committed. And that I find extraordinary, incredible."
Iran's Judiciary have also used Boris Johnson's comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on their website: pic.twitter.com/rvypyE541j— Aisha S Gani (@aishagani) November 6, 2017
At a hearing on Saturday, November 4, the Iranian judiciary's High Council for Human Rights said:
"His statement shows that Nazanin had visited the country for anything but a holiday. For months it was claimed that Nazanin is a British-Iranian charity worker who went to see her family when she was arrested… Mr. Johnston's statement has shed new light on the realities about Nazanin."
Richard Ratcliffe, the jailed woman's husband, is demanding that Mr. Johnston makes a statement in the Commons to correct his mistake in an effort to prevent the sentence being extended.
"I would like him to retract in Parliament, in Parliament rather than in a phone call to his counterpart, what he said, and say clearly that Nazanin wasn’t training journalists and that she was just there on holiday," he said.
He has argued it was imperative that the foreign secretary visit his wife in prison to keep the pressure growing on the Iranian authorities.
This is not the first time Johnson has found himself the target of criticism, both by the opposition parties and his own Conservative members.
He sparked controversy recently over a statement that the Libyan city of Sirte could be turned into the next Dubai, adding: "only thing they have to do is clear the dead bodies away."
In August, the tousled-haired politician found himself under attack from the former head of Britain's diplomatic service.
Lord John Kerr — who also served as the ambassador to US and EU, slammed him over his rhetoric towards Brexit as well as accuse him of being an "apologist" for US President Donald Trump.