Boris Johnson admitted he feels ‘a deep sense of anguish’ for a British mum imprisoned in Iran on trumped up spying charges today – but insisted her detention is not his fault.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ended her hunger strike after 15 days yesterday, after she stopped taking food in protest at her ‘unfair imprisonment’.
Mr Johnson shared his sympathy with the family this morning after her husband Richard said he must ‘take responsibility for his mistakes’.
While foreign secretary Mr Johnson gaffed by saying in a speech that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran ‘teaching people journalism’ – despite her family’s insistence that she was visiting relatives – which was used against her during her trial.
Appearing on Ridge on Sunday today Mr Johnson said: ‘I feel sorry for her, for her daughter, for her husband Richard and I’ve said this many, many times. I feel a deep sense of anguish for what she has been going through.’
He added: ‘When it comes to responsibility for what she is suffering I think that is incredibly important that we in the UK do not unwittingly give aid and succour to the people who are really responsible, which is not the Foreign Office, not the former foreign secretary, and no-one in London is responsible for incarcerating Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
‘The people who are responsible are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and anything you do to exculpate them is, I think, a great shame.’
Mr Ratcliffe, who went on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London in solidarity with his wife, said yesterday that Mr Johnson should take responsibility for his mistakes.
‘Of course it’s not all his fault, clearly we are camped here because the Iranian authorities are imprisoning Nazanin, but he should take responsibility for his mistakes because they have consequences’, he said.
‘Not just the gaffe, the failure to apologise afterwards clearly made things worse.
‘I think it’s bad for a PM candidate not to take responsibility for their mistakes because the most important thing for a prime minister is to take responsibility for their country.’
Jeremy Hunt supporter Sir Patrick McLoughlin also hit out at Mr Johsnon’s handling of the case. He told Ridge: ‘Well he is right in that obviously Iran is responsible for holding somebody in their jails and somebody who should be released as soon as possible and I think everybody has got great sympathy with her family.
‘I think perhaps some of the language that Boris has used has not helped the case.’
It came as Mr Johnson said today he would be prepared to increase public borrowing to fund infrastructure projects for the ‘long-term benefit of the country’.
The Tory leadership front-runner insisted ‘there is cash’ available for a spending increase if he becomes prime minister and said he would also oversee a slew of tax cuts to stimulate the economy.
Appearing on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday he said there was ‘headroom’ of between £22billion and £25billion.
He also suggested he could raise the national minimum wage to around £10 per hour from the current £8.21.
Asked whether he would increase borrowing, the foreign secretary said: ‘If it’s borrowing to finance great infrastructure projects and there is the opportunity to borrow at low rates, to do things for the long term benefit of the country then we should do them.’
Pressed again he added: ‘I’m prepared to borrow to finance certain great objectives but overall we will keep fiscal responsibility and keep going with the objective of making sure this country pays its way and lives within its means.’
His remarks are likely to spark alarm in the Treasury where Chancellor Philip Hammond runs a tight fiscal ship – although he will almost certainly be replaced by Mr Johnson.
He outlined plans for his spending including £4.6billion on schools, saying: ‘There is cash available. There is headroom of £22billion to £25 billion at the moment.’
Mr Hunt earlier said some of his spending commitments ‘would have to wait’ if there was a no-deal Brexit as money would be diverted to support businesses.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: ‘I wouldn’t drop them because I think we can make a success of no-deal… they would take longer because you wouldn’t have that money at your fingertips straight away.’
He added: ‘Of those commitments, the one I would not drop is the one to reduce corporation tax.
‘It’s not the tax cut people are talking about on the doorstep when you meet them but it is one that would fire up the economy in a way that would be helpful in a no-deal context because we would have economic bumpiness and we need to support businesses.’
In a wide-ranging interview Mr Johnson also said he took ‘personal responsibility for the vote to leave the EU’, after taking a leading role in the Leave campaign in 2016.
He said: ‘I take personal responsibility,most importantly, for the vote to leave the European Union. I played a part in that campaign and I’m very proud of what we did.
‘But I take personal responsibility now for what is happening to our country, for the drift and the dither and the indecision, and the failure to be sufficiently robust in the negotiations which we’ve seen so far and what I want to add now is my own ability, I think, to lead us out of this mess.’