Why Boris Johnson speaks softly about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release by Iran – Laura Waddell

Rarely do we see anyone speak in public with the levels of bravery and conviction displayed by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe this past week.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe attend a press conference following her release from detention in Iran(Picture: Victoria Jones/Getty Images)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe attend a press conference following her release from detention in Iran(Picture: Victoria Jones/Getty Images)

With surprising and admirable composure, displaying steely nerves, she used her first press conference to ask that others still unfairly detained in Iran not be forgotten.

This appearance on UK soil, her family beside her, has come after six long, painful years campaigning for her release, during most of which, with setback after setback, the prospect of success seemed excruciatingly distant.

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It has been revealed that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe, front and centre of campaign efforts, was at times pressured to be quiet. Labour MP Tulip Siddiqi said: “The Foreign Office told us many times: ‘We could have got Nazanin out earlier if you didn’t make such a song and dance about this’, but Richard disagreed with that.”

In stunts such as worrying extended hunger strikes, which made for gruesome pictures in the press, the agony of what the family was going through was written all over his face.

The anguished story of a husband begging to be reunited with his wife resonated with the public in a visceral way. As I’ve previously written, while Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case attracted many supporters, around the same time a hotter degree of frenzied public interest was taken in stripping Shamima Begum of her citizenship, than in defending the rights of a British citizen detained unfairly abroad.

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Ongoing media pressure to save Zaghari-Ratcliffe has reflected poorly on Boris Johnson, whose bungling of the case as Foreign Secretary in 2017, when he had to make a formal apology in the House of Commons for erroneously claiming she had been “training journalists” on her trip to Iran, contradicting her legal defence.

It was a blunder with serious consequences. Speaking now, he won’t want to draw attention to the colossal mistake; that’s one reason his remarks about the release are delivered with a rare note of humility.

The other is the matter of British debt to Iran – something else Richard Ratcliffe has long pointed to as linked to his wife’s fate. Although the government claims it is unrelated to her release, the UK has just paid Iran back £400 million. That Britain has debt at all is a squeamish idea for many.

Furthermore, negotiations over gas and oil supplies don’t really jive with Brexit fever dreams of a Britain that doesn’t have to rely on anybody for anything; or the Britain considered by its most fervent EU-spurning citizens to be a dominant world power made stronger specifically by severing ties with others, as demonstrated by the tabloids sending crude messages to a bemused France writ large on the cliffs of Dover.

Ardent Brexiteers don’t want to see Britain as it now is in the world: a small, huffy island dependent on doing deals like any other in order to function. Negotiation and neediness is not on brand for Brexit Britain.

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When Johnson comments on Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release, rather than trumpeting the success of his government’s negotiations, he speaks in a quiet tone of voice, still not intending to make a song and dance about it. Her clear voice and the determination of the family not to give up is what ultimately saved them.

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