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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Ministers rush to support Boris Johnson over jailed aid worker

The foreign secretary was backed by fellow Leavers David Davies and Michael Gove

Ministers have rallied to support the embattled foreign secretary Boris Johnson. AP Photo/Armando Franca
Ministers have rallied to support the embattled foreign secretary Boris Johnson. AP Photo/Armando Franca

British ministers have rallied around the embattled foreign secretary Boris Johnson throughout Sunday, claiming that he was doing a “great job” and that despite his ill-considered remarks about the jailed Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe which have potentially increased her sentence he should not resign.

The coordinated defence is part of attempts to shore up the government of prime minister Theresa May, weakened by a series of scandals and gaffes involving her top team of ministers as she negotiates Britain's departure from the European Union. The Sunday Times reported that 40 of her own MPs were now calling for her to step down.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on May to sack Johnson, writing in The Observer newspaper on Sunday that “we’ve put up with him embarrassing and undermining our country through his incompetence ... for long enough. It’s time for Boris Johnson to go.”

Corbyn, and fellow Labourite Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said Johnson had offended states and religions before “bungling” the case of Iranian-British aid worker Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving five years in an Iranian prison after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment. She denies the charges.

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Two of Mr Johnson’s allies, Brexit minister David Davis and environment minister Michael Gove, defended the foreign secretary, who last week said he could have been clearer in his remark that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching people journalism before her arrest in April 2016.

Her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said Johnson’s comment made on November 1 was incorrect, while opposition MPs said the remarks could land the aid worker a longer term in jail.

“Why would you want to sack him? He’s a good foreign secretary,” Mr Davis told Sky News.

Mr Gove urged critics to stop focusing on Johnson’s role in the case and instead to question the motivation of what he called “the Iranian regime” in jailing Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“There is no reason, no excuse and no justification for her detention and she should be released,” he told Andrew Marr on the BBC.

Later, Sky News cited sources as saying Johnson had held a “constructive” phone call with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who has called on the minister to visit his wife in jail.