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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Pressure mounts on Boris Johnson as the British press scents blood

The problems are piling up for the embattled British foreign secretary who appears to not be able to spend a day out of the headlines

Will the Madame Tussauds waxwork of Boris Johnson last longer than the actual foreign secretary? Reuters/Dylan Martinez
Will the Madame Tussauds waxwork of Boris Johnson last longer than the actual foreign secretary? Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Following a week of increasing pressure on him for his handling of the case of jailed mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the problems are piling up for the embattled British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who appears to not be able to spend a day out of the headlines.

The latest crop of stories that feature in Saturday’s newspapers included briefings to The Times by his allies that it was actually an incorrect Foreign Office briefing that had led to his claim that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism in Iran, which has been taken at face value by some in the Tehran regime and has led to the possibility she will serve an additional five years in prison.

That story brought a strong rebuke from the civil servants’ union, the First Division Association, whose general secretary Dave Penman said: “It’s difficult to imagine such a mistake being made by an FCO official, but even if it were –the buck stops with the foreign secretary. It’s his responsibility to correct any mistakes not vaguely pointing the finger and looking for someone to blame.”

Mr Johnson was also lambasted on the front page of the Daily Mirror for appearing to voice his support for bull-fighting at an Anglo-Spanish event during the week.

However an altogether more troubling story is emerging that the foreign secretary may have lied about a meeting he had with Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese academic suspected by the FBI of being a link between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

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Read more:

Iranian state TV seizes on Johnson’s comments about jailed mother as ‘proof’ of British plot

UK foreign secretary shrugs off resignation call after Iran blunder

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A Foreign Office source told The Observer newspaper last week: “The foreign secretary has not knowingly met this person, planned to meet this person, or indeed ever heard of this person before.”

The Observer said it had seen an email in which Mifsud said he would be “meeting Boris Johnson for dinner re Brexit” on October 19, when Mr Johnson was addressing a fundraising dinner in the constituency of Alok Sharma, a former foreign office minister and the MP for Reading West.

But on Saturday a photograph that appears to show Mr Johnson meeting with Mr Mifsud emerged on Twitter, putting pressure on the foreign secretary to perhaps revisit the previous denials made in his name.

It seems likely that the newspaper, which is published on Sundays, will follow up on their story this week.

Members of his own party have openly called on him to go – perpetual Tory rebel Anna Soubry went on a Friday night satirical TV show and said Mr Johnson should have gone “weeks ago”.

But it is the plight of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was reported by The Times as having been “hooded and interrogated” during her jail ordeal and “harbouring suicidal thoughts”, which will most likely decide his fate.