Michael Gove says he does not know why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran when she was arrested

The Government’s stated position is that it has ‘no doubt’ the British woman was on holiday

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Sunday 12 November 2017 11:34
Comments
Michael Gove says he doesn't know what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran

Michael Gove has said he does not know why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran when she was arrested and accused of plotting to overthrow the country’s leaders, despite it being the UK’s official position that she was there on holiday.

Pressed on the issue, the cabinet minister said he accepted her husband’s assurance that she was there on a family trip.

But Mr Gove’s noncommittal response comes amid the ongoing fallout of Boris Johnson’s botched comments on the case, which left Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe facing an extra five years in an Iranian prison.

Speaking about the case on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove was asked why the 38-year-old woman was in Iran, replying: “I don’t know.

“One of the things I want to stress is that there is no reason why Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should be in prison in Iran so far as any of us know. No evidence has been produced which suggests she should be detained.”

When it was put to him that her husband, Richard, says she was on holiday, Mr Gove said: “In that case I take exactly her husband’s assurance in that regard.”

Michael Gove speaking to Andrew Marr (BBC/PA Wire )

Asked if she was training journalists, as has been claimed by the Iranian authorities, Mr Gove said: “Her husband said that she was there on holiday and her husband is the person who should know.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been jailed for five years after being accused of plotting against the Iranian government, but she also defended herself against claims she was spreading propaganda by teaching journalists – something she and her family have stringently denied.

But after Mr Johnson mistakenly told MPs in a public hearing that she had been teaching journalists, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was hauled in front of an Iranian court and threatened with another five years in prison.

Boris Johnson claims no connection between his comments and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sentence

In a bid to repair the situation, Mr Johnson apologised in the House of Commons “if” his words had been misconstrued, and he said: “The UK Government has no doubt that she was on holiday in Iran when she was arrested last year – and that was the sole purpose of her visit.”

He also spoke to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband ro reassure him that the Foreign Office is working to bring his wife back to the UK.

But in the wake of the gaffe, Mr Johnson has faced calls to resign from the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, privately from some MPs in his own party and most recently from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said: “Boris Johnson’s cavalier approach to international diplomacy is compounded this morning by Michael Gove claiming he has no idea what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran. It has always been clear, she was on holiday visiting her family.

“It appears Gove is more interested in protecting Johnson’s job than the liberty of a British citizen in jail in Iran.

“Theresa May must ensure Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe does not pay the price for her ministers’ bungling.”

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