Boris Johnson [Image: Depo Photos/REX/Shutterstock].

Boris Johnson has refused to admit he was wrong to say a woman being held in an Iranian prison was “teaching journalism” – in the face of all the evidence against it.

Quick recap: Referring to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a woman of joint UK-Iranian citizenship who has been detained in Iran since April 2016, he said that she had been “simply teaching people journalism”. As a result, she was hauled up before an Iranian court over the weekend and told she could face another five years in prison, with Mr Johnson’s words used as evidence against her.

In fact, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a project manager with a charity and was in Iran to visit her family for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. She is not a journalist and has never trained them.

Let us be clear about this: Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told at the court hearing that Mr Johnson’s words were being used against her.

But today (November 7) giving his statement in the Commons, he absolutely refused to apologise for his blunder – not once, but many times.

He said he spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and told Zarif that the government’s view is that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was just in Iran on holiday. He said that, when he spoke to the Commons foreign affairs committee last week, he was trying to make the point that, even if Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists, that would not have justified her detention – but added: “I accept that my remarks could have been clearer in that respect.”

He was right – but only because his remarks last week were nothing like his claim about them today. He said: “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it.” He did not say her detention would not have been justified even if she was training journalists.

He said Zarif told him that recent judicial developments in Iran relating to Zaghari-Ratcliffe had nothing to do with his remarks. But reports have suggested the opposite.

And Mr Johnson said he intends to visit Iran in the next few weeks. We may hope that this is true – he might manage to get himself arrested; then we wouldn’t have to put up with him any more.

Emily Thornberry gave him short shrift. She said he should apologise for his “foolish words”, asked how many more times this has to happen, and what it will take before the prime minister says enough is enough. If Theresa May doesn’t have the strength to sack him, she asked, will Johnson accept that this job, where words matter, is not the job for him?

Johnson’s reply defied belief: He said it was untrue to say there is any connection between what he said and Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight. By attacking him, Ms Thornberry was deflecting blame from those truly responsible in the Iranian regime. Rubbish.

Yvette Cooper also called for Mr Johnson’s resignation, and again he said his remarks did not affect the judicial process in Iran.

Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson agreed that Mr Johnson should resign: His casual disregard for the truth in the EU referendum campaign was bad enough, but this was unforgivable. If Johnson won’t read his brief, she asked, will he resign? No – he said he had already covered this.

And Conservative Anna Soubry tweeted this morning that “in normal times Boris Johnson wld have been sacked long ago”.

Labour’s Barry Gardiner had it right:

Support for Mr Johnson among his own party is negligible. Apart from whips and ministers, only around nine of his colleagues turned up to hear his statement.

That should be the kiss of death.


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