By James Marlow
James Marlow is a journalist specialising in British and Israeli politics along with Middle East and Regional Affairs. In addition, he is an experienced media and communications trainer and advises on a consultant basis.
Boris Johnson finally apologised this week for the “distress” and “suffering” he caused Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family by saying she was training journalists in Iran. In fact, she was visiting her parents as a British Iranian citizen with her young daughter, but arrested at Tehran airport on her return to London accused of trying to topple the government.
Why it took so long for the Foreign Secretary to admit he made a mistake and genuinely regretted what he said, has baffled many of his close colleagues.
The Iranians responded to Boris’ comments on 1 November by hinting that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s five-year prison sentence could be doubled for “undertaking illegal activity.”
She has now served 19 months in a notorious Iranian jail while her young daughter lives with her grandparents, separated also from her father, Richard Ratcliffe.
Critics called upon Theresa May to sack Boris for a blunder that could have a direct effect on someone’s life. I agreed, despite enjoying my time chatting and walking with Boris on several election campaigns as a journalist. Its extraordinary how many people who are clearly not Tory voters, stop their vehicles to meet with Boris. He is a man of the people because he makes blunders and fumbles his words.
But being a member of the government is not always a glamorous job. Despite the long 16- hour days, you also have to spend hours each night reading your briefs and being aware of your responsibilities. This is something that the Foreign Secretary clearly did not do in the case with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Compare that with Priti Patel who was forced to resign for holding meetings with Israeli officials, “unofficially,” while an “official” British delegation was in Israel at the very same time. Whether you accept she made mistakes or not, Ms Patel never put anyone’s life in danger.
As someone who worked with Priti in the political arena for more than a year, she is someone very strict about protocol and code of conduct. It is therefore very difficult to accept that she failed to notify officials including Number 10 of her planned meetings. Priti was hung out to dry because some in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) felt a British Minister was getting “too friendly” with the Israelis.
Ms Patel was accused of breaching the ministerial government code by meeting with Israeli politicians without British officials being present. But if Priti had wanted to keep the meetings secret, she would not have allowed photographers to take pictures of herself and Israeli officials which were then posted on social media.
Israel has invited the Royal Family many times to visit the Jewish State but is always turned down on the advice of the FCO. That same department has no problem with allowing our Royal Family to visit some of the most rogue states in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Last August, Ms Patel spent 12 days in Israel on a family holiday which she paid for with her own money. She is a workaholic and wanted to learn more about Israel’s high-tech industry and its humanitarian work. But treachery, treason and traitor were just some of the words used on social media in reference to her.
Israel set up a field hospital in the Golan 4-years ago and has treated more than 5000 Syrian refugees. Some in the media pointed out that British tax payers would fund the Israeli army’s humanitarian efforts in the “occupied” Golan Heights which of course Britain does not recognise even though it was annexed by Israel in 1982.
If the British government wishes to help Syrian refugees without bringing them to Britain, surely this would be a good investment.
Ms Patel maybe a smaller fish to fire unlike Johnson, but through a bizarre twist of fate, “Blundering Boris” has unwittingly brought the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case into the spot light where it must remain. Even her husband Richard believes Boris must now keep his job as Foreign Secretary and fly to Tehran to bring back Nazanin with their daughter.
Perhaps now Boris will start acting like a professional member of the cabinet.