To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, if he will make a statement on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for raising this question. We are deeply concerned that Iran has issued new charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. This is indefensible and unacceptable. We are relieved that the groundless new trial, which commenced on 2 November, was adjourned and that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains on furlough, but we will continue to call on Iran to make Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release permanent.
On 29 October, we summoned the Iranian ambassador to make clear our deep concerns about these new charges. We fully support the family’s request for officials from the embassy in Tehran to attend any court hearings. The UK Government issued a note of avowal formally requesting UK Government attendance at Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s recent 2 November hearing. So far, regrettably, we have not been granted access to Iranian judicial hearings of any of our dual British national detainees. We will continue to firmly lobby for access to them.
On 22 September, we summoned the Iranian ambassador and handed over a letter from E3 Foreign Ministers about the human rights situation in Iran, including our shared concern about the arbitrary detention of dual nationals. The ambassador in Tehran will continue to raise this with his Iranian counterpart. The Foreign Secretary has spoken directly to Foreign Minister Zarif three times since the summer and continues to raise the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other UK dual nationals in the strongest terms.
Since the Foreign Secretary was last at the Dispatch Box both he and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials have been in regular contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family. The Foreign Secretary has spoken with both Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband, when he reiterated that the UK Government, from the Prime Minister down, remain committed to doing everything we can for her.
The UK Government continue to engage with international partners and directly with the Government of Iran on the full range of issues of interest to the UK. Our priority remains to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, to promote stability and security in the region, to secure the release of all our dual national detainees, and to keep the diplomatic door open for a new talks with Iran.
Alongside our E3 partners, we are committed to the nuclear deal with Iran—the joint comprehensive plan of action, or JCPOA—as the best means available to monitor and constrain Iran’s nuclear programme. As we have said before, we are deeply concerned by Iranian non-compliance. Iran must engage with the dispute resolution mechanism, which we triggered with France and Germany on 14 January, and return to compliance. We also continue to have serious concerns regarding the implications for the security of the region with the expiry date of the United Nations conventional arms embargo on 18 October.
I can assure the House that the safety and good treatment of all dual national British detainees in Iran remains a top priority of the UK Government. We will continue to lobby at all levels for their permanent release on humanitarian grounds so that they can return home safely to their loved ones.
Before I begin, I would like to thank the Speaker’s Office for granting this urgent question, because I am aware that there is a lot of parliamentary business on at the moment.
The case of my constituent is well-rehearsed. She was arrested in Iran in 2016 and was handed a five-year sentence. We had dared to dream that she would be returning home next year in April, until last week, when she was told that she would be facing new trumped-up charges. As the Minister has pointed out, she went to court yesterday prepared to put forward her defence, and she was told that her case had been adjourned. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has told her family that she is sleepless with worry anticipating the next move from the Iranian authorities.
Before I ask the Minister some questions, I want to raise the issue of the £400 million debt that we owe Iran. The date for the court hearing for the debt was meant to be today, but last week we were told it was being postponed. On the very same day last week, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told that she faces trumped-up new charges against her, that she has to go to court and that she may be sent back to prison. That was not a coincidence; it is a punishment.
I want to ask the Minister the following questions. Did the Government anticipate or risk-assess the consequences for Nazanin when they agreed to postpone the IMS debt hearing? Secondly, as we know, Nazanin is not the only British citizen being held as a political hostage in Iran. How many prisoners have the Government managed to get access to since the British embassy in Iran reopened in 2015? Is it more than zero? The Minister has touched on UK officials not being present at Nazanin’s court hearing yesterday. Will he clarify exactly what date they requested to attend and whether it was simply asked for, or was it asserted as a consular right? Finally, can the Minister give any examples of how Nazanin’s status of diplomatic protection has been or will be deployed by our Government to make a material difference in her case?
I know that the Government have continually denied the link between the debt that we owe Iran and Nazanin’s imprisonment, but burying our heads in the sand is costing my constituent her life. I know the Government have a lot on their plate at the moment with the pandemic, but I know the Minister well and I know he wants to bring Nazanin home. I am asking him to do a bit more and to try harder to resolve this debt issue, so that we can end the cycle of despair for Nazanin and her family.
I will finish by saying that this is my sixth urgent question about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in this House, and I sincerely hope it is the last one I will be asking.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, for her tireless campaigning on behalf of her constituent and more widely on the other British dual national detainees in Iran. It is commendable. She raises the question of the delay in the hearing about the IMS debt. As she said in her comments, these are unrelated issues. However, the adjournment of the November hearing is at the request of the Iranian Ministry of Defence. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further on ongoing legal positions in regard to that.
The hon. Lady also speaks about our requests for access to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British dual national detainees. That is something we continue to do. Requesting does not guarantee us access—indeed, demanding does not guarantee us access. What we are doing at every stage, while working with the Iranian Government at every level, is what we genuinely believe is in the best interests of our dual national detainees to secure their permanent release on humanitarian grounds, so that they can return home and be with their families.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this urgent question on such an important matter. Her campaign for her constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been inspiring, but the Minister knows that many other Brits are being held. Will he please confirm that he will be dealing with all Brits being held by the Iranian regime? Will he also agree that the attempts by the Iranian Government to connect the IMS debt and the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would seem to suggest that she is not being held on the charges that they claim, but actually is just a hostage? That would cheapen Iranian justice. Surely the Iranian Government would never argue that case again.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The British Government’s position is clear. We do not link this to the debt, but we do not dispute that there is a 40-year-old debt, and we continue to explore options to resolve it. I will not comment further, because this is an ongoing situation. He is right to raise the plight of other British dual nationals in detention in Iran. We make the case strongly and regularly for the full, permanent release—not just release on furlough—of all British dual nationals held in detention.
I add my voice to those thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for her refusal to give up, her persistence on behalf of her constituent, and for ensuring that the voice of Nazanin and her family is heard in this House and beyond. As my hon. Friend said, it is four and a half years since Nazanin was first arbitrarily detained by the Iranian authorities, and just as the end of her original five-year sentence is in sight, she faces the terrifying prospect of a second trial—for which there is no evidence or legal justification—for more crimes that she did not commit, which could extend her detention still further.
The adjournment of Nazanin’s hearing on Monday delays a potential further miscarriage of justice, but also any prospect of a conclusion to a truly unimaginable ordeal. We believe that the threat of reincarceration, the constant harassment by members of Iran’s revolutionary guard, the repeated delay to judicial hearings, and the levelling of false charges are tantamount to mental torture, and I would be grateful if the Minister told the House whether the Government share that view. They have rightly voiced opposition to Nazanin’s return to prison during a second trial. It is welcome that the Foreign Secretary has made representations generally about Nazanin’s case, but can the Minister say whether the Government have made representations, through the Foreign Secretary, specifically on the issue of the return to prison during a second trial?
Almost two months ago, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the historical debt that is owed, and whether he agrees with the Defence Secretary, who acknowledged that there is a debt to be paid; the Foreign Secretary said that he did. At an Iranian Foreign Ministry press briefing yesterday, officials repeated that they are pursuing this debt. No one in this House accepts the legitimacy of any direct link between the debt and the arbitrary detention of dual nationals, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anousheh Ashoori and others. However, there is the prospect of our putting our relations with Iran on a better footing if we resolve this issue, which has dragged on for decades, in which there is a clear legal obligation on the UK, and in regard to which the Defence Secretary has described the UK’s behaviour as “un-British” and obfuscatory.
I was very concerned to hear the Minister’s response to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn asked about the date for a hearing. Will the Minister tell us what steps he has taken in the last two months to progress this issue and find a resolution that ensures that this historical debt does not present an ongoing obstacle to the safe and swift return of Nazanin and other British-Iranian dual nationals? Does he agree with the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) that if Nazanin is released soon, the acknowledgement of our historical debt will have paid an important part in the release?
The Minister knows that this is not a party political matter, and that Members in all parts of the House have voiced their full support for Nazanin’s release. As we approach the fifth Christmas that Nazanin will be unable to spend with her family, I hope that he can give us his assurance that everything in the Government’s power is being done to bring her safely home.
I can only reiterate the point I made about the debt. We recognise that the debt is due, and we are working to resolve this. It is a 40-year-old debt, and we are exploring options to bring this to a conclusion. It is not possible for me to comment further or in more detail on this, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will understand why.
On the new charges being brought against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, our position is clear: they are indefensible and completely unacceptable. The hon. Lady mentions the other British dual nationals in incarceration. Our passion for securing their permanent release is just as strong as our passion in the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. As I said, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, I and, indeed, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have this as an absolute priority. I have already mentioned the number of occasions on which the Foreign Secretary has spoken directly with his opposite numbers, the times when the Iranian ambassador has been called in and, indeed, when Her Majesty’s ambassador in Tehran has raised this issue. It is and will remain a top priority for the Government. We welcome the fact that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has not been sent back to prison. However, that is not enough. We continue to work for her full, permanent release and that of the other British dual nationals in incarceration. We will not rest until that is accomplished.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on securing the urgent question on this vital matter and the cross-party agreement that Nazanin should be returned to the UK, with all the charges dropped. Recent reports suggest that the Iranian revolutionary guard corps has constantly harassed Nazanin while she has been in Iran. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable and that we need to proscribe the IRGC in its entirely to send the strongest possible signal to Iran that its behaviour cannot be tolerated?
My hon. Friend will know that it is a long-standing convention that we do not discuss future proscriptions or sanctions. He makes a broader point about the international standing of Iran. I can only assume that Iran wishes to be brought back into the international fold, but, for that, its behaviour must change.
As I said, we regard the treatment of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British dual national detainees to be completely unacceptable and we strongly urge the Iranian regime to do the right thing and release all British dual national detainees on humanitarian grounds so that they can return permanently to their families and loved ones.
Let me once again put on record the SNP’s unequivocal condemnation of the Iranian Government for the outrageous detention of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I repeat our call for her immediate and unconditional release. Nazanin, her husband Richard and their young daughter have been treated appallingly by the regime in Tehran. If, as the Minister says, this is the Prime Minister’s top priority, I feel she will be let down again, having been let down by him while he was Foreign Secretary.
The UK Government have finally acknowledged that the outstanding debt owed to Iran is a major factor in the ongoing illegal detention of Nazanin. What discussions have been had to explore practical and legal ways to repay the debt? What advice has the Department sought and received on whether that could be done in the form of humanitarian aid supplies?
As I have said on a number of occasions, the debt, which we recognise, is unrelated. We are seeking ways to resolve this 40-year-old debt, but I am unwilling to go into further details about that as it is an ongoing situation. I would, however, echo the hon. Member’s point that the incarceration of all British dual national detainees in Iran is unacceptable and they should be released.
I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for the tireless and impressive work she has done on behalf of her constituent. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the likely impact of June’s presidential election in Tehran on Nazanin’s case? Obviously, Quds commander Qasem Soleimani will not be in the frame, but he was the front runner. Does my right hon. Friend feel he can make progress where previously that was not the case? To what extent does he feel that his interlocutors, Ministers Zarif and Araghchi, can have influence since the IRGC, which is actually pulling the strings, is very much separate from those to whom he speaks regularly?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his work in this role prior to my tenure. He makes a strong point about the need to maintain working relations with a number of individuals in the Iranian Government, and we seek to do so. Ultimately,
I am not sure it is useful for me to speculate about the outcome of elections or which individuals may be in what posts, because the UK’s position will be unchanged: the detention is illegitimate, all the British dual national detainees should be released and we will continue to work with whoever is in whichever role to achieve that.
I thank my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), who has worked so tirelessly on this campaign. Perhaps we might try a slightly different approach and tone. I have had the privilege of conversations with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding an all-faith delegation to Tehran to discuss the cases. Possibly, there is a chance that an all-party delegation could go to Iran specifically for that purpose. At the moment, I know that Iran will not accept delegations, but perhaps the mood music will change after today and we might get, particularly, an all-faith delegation. If the ministerial team made that possible, perhaps we would get some beneficial results.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting forward ideas he believes may be useful to bring about the goals that we all want. I am unsure about the effectiveness of that one, but I am willing to receive any ideas from him. We will continue working, and to explore ideas with whoever puts them forward. I commend the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn for engaging with us regularly. Ultimately, we are all—across party and right across the House—trying to achieve a resolution and to have the British dual national detainees returned home.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to Nazanin’s case and for taking such a clear position that she should not be sent back to jail. Does he agree that Iran’s attempt to exploit dual nationals for political gain is unacceptable and that we should continue to lobby strongly for their release?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Ultimately, he is right: the responsibility lies with the Government of Iran, the Iranian regime. We remain committed to securing immediate, full and permanent release. While we are pleased that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has not been returned to Evin prison, that is not the end of the matter. We will continue to work to have her and the other detainees return home.
I thank the Minister for his responses so far and I share the House’s view that this is absolutely ridiculous, that we are still here talking not just about Nazanin, but about all those political prisoners who are being detained. I am particularly concerned about Anousheh Ashouri and his susceptibility to covid-19. Specifically, which other detainees is the Minister aware of who also have susceptibility to covid-19, and what assurances will he give the House that robust conversations have been had about their getting specific medical attention for the those comorbidities?
The welfare of all our British dual nationals imprisoned in Iran remains a priority, and we have raised their cases at the most senior level, in particular with discussions about health vulnerabilities. Ultimately—I find myself coming back to this point, but it is the fundamental one—the very best thing that we can do for all of them is to secure their permanent release back to their families at the earliest opportunity. That is what we will continue to work towards.
I, too, commend the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for her relentless work on behalf of her constituent. I also commend the Minister for all the work that he is doing to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Will he join me in urging the Iranian Government now to release all UK dual nationals who are being arbitrarily detained and allow them to return home to their families in the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is in the gift of the Iranian regime. We will continue to call on it to do the right thing, which is to release all British dual nationals in incarceration and allow them to return.
I wholeheartedly support the comments made by other hon. Members. I urge the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister to bolster efforts to bring Nazanin home. Her life of fear is similar to that lived by many religious minorities in Iran. Earlier this year, the Christian human rights activist Mary Fatemeh Mohammadi received a suspended prison sentence of three months and a directive to receive a flogging of 10 lashes. What is the Minister doing to protect religious minorities in Iran?
We continue to have concerns about Iran’s human rights record and the treatment of minorities. Although that is an allied issue, it is separate to that of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other dual national detainees. We continue to work with Iran at all levels to encourage it to improve its human rights record.
I also commend the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for her efforts in this area. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department is doing everything in its power to ensure that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe receives all the necessary medical care during this difficult time?
We regularly raise health and welfare concerns with the Iranian Government at the most senior levels. The Foreign Secretary continues to raise the UK’s concerns with his opposite number Foreign Minister Zarif. We will continue to raise such issues until these people are allowed home.
I, too, thank the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this important urgent question. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) in that Nazanin is not the only one who has fallen foul of a malign Iran’s attack on human rights.
The UN conventional arms embargo on Iran expired last month, in line with the 2015 nuclear deal, which failed to address Iran’s human rights abuses and detention of foreign citizens. The UK’s decision to abstain on the UN Security Council resolution to extend the embargo was regrettable. Will my right hon. Friend explain how the UK plans to address Iran’s regional aggressions, which represent one of the most pressing challenges to international peace and security and British foreign policy interests?
We have long been clear about our concerns about Iran’s continued destabilising activity throughout the region, including its political, financial and military support for a number of militant and proscribed groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. We will continue to work with international partners to promote stability and security in the region and to do everything we can to ensure that that activity ceases.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for championing the rights of her constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and for securing this urgent question. The United Nations has ruled that Nazanin’s imprisonment is unlawful and ordered Iran to release her. What more can the British Government do to work through the wider international community to put pressure on Iran to follow its international obligations?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is good that we have international support on our calls, which reflects our belief that the charges are illegitimate and that her detention and that of other British dual nationals is unacceptable. We will continue to work with international partners and directly with Iran to secure all their releases, and we are grateful for the international support that we have received on this issue.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on not only what she said today but all she has said for her constituent. I echo the call for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s proceedings to be ended forthwith, but if that is not the case, I am sure my right hon. Friend will accept that the fairness and transparency of the next set of proceedings against her will become fundamental. Will he redouble his efforts to ensure that those proceedings are observed by a representative of the UK Government and/or those who represent international organisations? I ask him to accept and to communicate that if these proceedings are fair—if these charges are fairly laid and are to be fairly tried—the Iranians have no reason to prevent the world from seeing them.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. We are seeking to be allowed to attend any future hearings. Our embassy in Tehran formally requested that last week, and we have consistently made the point with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We are committed to securing the immediate and permanent release of all arbitrarily detained British dual nationals. The point he makes about the Iranian regime acting transparently is a good one.
The Iranian regime’s behaviour is reprehensible, but there are moderate voices within Iranian society, including President Rouhani. Does the Minister accept that unilateral action by the USA, including targeted executions, worsens the situation for all? Will he therefore ensure that the UK’s diplomatic efforts to ensure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release are in line with those of European partners, not those of an American President, whoever is elected today?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Iranian people are famed through history for their science and culture, and our criticism is not of the broader Iranian people; it is of the behaviour of the Iranian Government. I would be very uncomfortable making comments that might be perceived to give excuses to those in the Iranian regime who seek to arbitrarily detain Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and others. It is their actions that we should be focused on. It is their choice to detain these people, and it is in their gift to release them. We should be relentlessly focused on their behaviour and the decisions that they have made.
I join others in recognising the determination and commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on this matter for her constituent. This has gone on for five years. The Government granted Nazanin diplomatic protection status over a year ago. Can the Minister tell us what has changed in the Government’s approach since then and what difference that has made? Many of my constituents who share a deep concern for Nazanin’s future are wondering what difference that made.
Our ability to support Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is determined in large part by the behaviour of the Iranian Government. We have made it clear on numerous occasions that we want to have access to our dual national detainees. We now have the opportunity to speak directly with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which is welcome. But ultimately, we will continue to do what we believe to be in her best interests and those of the other detained British dual nationals, and we will continue working with the Iranian Government, within the limitations that they impose, to secure their permanent release.
If Iran is going to come in from the cold, it has to start to comply with basic values of international law. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that starts with its respecting basic principles of human rights and ending its policy of industrialised hostage diplomacy? This current policy of taking dual nationals such as Nazanin hostage shows that it has zero intentions of ever engaging meaningfully with the international rules-based system.
Ultimately, we do want to see the Iranian Government come back into the international sphere, but the decisions that will enable them to do so are in their gift. Their permanent release of British dual nationals in detention would be a very positive step in the right direction, and we will continue to call on them to do that.
From Craigend down to Carmyle, my inbox last week was flooded by constituents wanting to see Nazanin brought home. Given that I think most fair-minded people would agree that the Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, very much bungled things last time around, can the Minister tell us what the Prime Minister is doing personally to try to intervene in this case and raise it at the highest levels of Government?
I have spoken with the Prime Minister about this issue, and I know that it remains a priority for him. It is very much a priority for the Foreign Secretary, me and the FCDO. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House of our passion for working towards the permanent release of British dual nationals in detention; it remains an absolute priority for us, and we will continue doing what we can to bring about their permanent release. Our actions will be relentlessly focused on that, and I can assure him that it remains a priority throughout Government.
In view of the growing normalisation between Arab states and Israel in an anti-Iran alliance targeted at its human rights abuses and its regional aggression, how is the Foreign Office going to tap into this source of growing antagonism towards what Iran is doing in order to achieve Nazanin’s release?
I think there is widespread support for the UK’s attempts to bring our dual nationals home. I cannot speak on behalf of other Governments, but I hope that Iran will have seen that there is international support for us. Ultimately, as I have said in response to previous questions, there is an opportunity now for Iran to reset its international reputation by doing the right thing and permanently releasing the British dual nationals in detention.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on securing this important urgent question. The postponement of the new trial of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Monday will have had a major impact on her mental health. She has been unlawfully held in Iran for four years, separated from her husband and daughter. As has already been discussed and commented on, her imprisonment is linked to the £400 million debt that the UK owes Iran. The case of Nazanin is a national tragedy. Can the Minister tell the House how many other British citizens are imprisoned in Iran and what the Government are doing to secure their release—and when?
I have already explained that the International Military Services debt is a separate issue and one we are working on. Ultimately, our efforts are to secure the release of all British dual nationals in incarceration, and that will continue to be a priority of this Government.
Iran has long walked the knife-edge of what is and is not acceptable under the joint comprehensive plan of action, exposing the agreement’s significant flaws in the process; it is clear that it is not deterring Iran’s actions, either in the region or with respect to dual nationals. I recognise the Government’s reluctance to walk away from the agreement without something else being in place, but we cannot reward bad behaviour or this hostage diplomacy. I therefore urge the Minister to give full consideration to what might be the point at which we have to walk away, and to reconsider the arms embargo.
As the Foreign Secretary made clear, the JCPOA is not perfect. However, while it continues to offer some benefits in constraining and verifying Iran’s nuclear programme, and in the absence of something better, we will continue to support it. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on what future actions the Government might take in relation to Iran.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq). However, we need to note that a key reason why we are in such a mess with the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case is that the former Foreign Secretary, who in spite of his incompetence was promoted by the Conservative party to the post of Prime Minister, was, as usual, not paying attention to detail. Instead, he decided to make a public statement that Nazanin was “simply teaching people journalism”. Similarly, the Scottish Sikh, Jagtar Singh Johal, has been imprisoned in India for the past three years. Despite his family’s lawyer alleging that he has faced torture and despite repeated requests, since taking office the Foreign Secretary has not even had the decency, has not bothered, to meet the despairing family. Instead of constantly delegating to others, such as the Minister here, when will the Foreign Secretary finally get a grip, do his job properly and help those Brits languishing abroad?
The actions of Iran this week show that the reason British dual nationals are being detained arbitrarily is that the Iranian regime choose to do so. To hand them opportunities to make excuses and to externalise their actions is deeply inappropriate. I urge the hon. Gentleman to reflect carefully. He is a deeply honourable person—I know him personally—but I think it is an error to hand them an opportunity to externalise the decisions that they have taken.
I too extend my thanks to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), and to the Carshalton and Wallington residents who have contacted me about Nazanin. The Minister mentioned bringing Iran back into the international fold. May I seek his assurance that that is very much dependent on Iran’s compliance with international law, respect for human rights, and, ultimately, the release of British dual nationals such as Nazanin?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is exactly behaviour of that kind that would see a road map for Iran being brought back into the international fold. In this instance, we ultimately wish to see something very simple: the permanent release of all British dual national detainees. That would be a positive step—perhaps the first—in the right direction for Iran.
I too commend the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq). I wish to reassure her that civil society across these islands is engaged with and vexed about the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Many Angus constituents stand in solidarity with the hon. Member and her constituent, and with her desire to see her returned home.
While serving as Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister made a difficult situation much worse with, let us call them, those unhelpful remarks about Nazanin. Now that he is Prime Minister, instead of a concerted effort marshalling the entire resources of the state to liberate her and seeking to right his wrong, we have witnessed a total collapse of UK international relations and regular statecraft. When will the Minister jumpstart the Department into life and ensure that UK nationals, starting with Nazanin, can return home to their families, as many other states have achieved for their citizens detained in Iran? The problem is that the Minister has said repeatedly this afternoon that they will continue working, but it seems to many of us that what they are doing is not working.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.
As well as destabilising the region and having a long history of financing global terror, we must not overlook the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and their detention of British citizens. Indeed, there was no mention in the 2015 nuclear deal of either financing global terror or human rights abuses. The Prime Minister has been quite right to call out the shortcomings of that deal. Does my right hon. Friend feel it is finally time to look again and call for a new comprehensive agreement with Iran?
My hon. Friend asks a very good question. As long as the JCPOA can offer some benefit to constraining Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear programme and, as I said, in the absence of something better, we will continue to support it. We do raise human rights, for example, at the various highest levels, and we do take action alongside our friends in the international community. We have been clear that we need to find a long-term solution to address the actions across the region that Iran is taking.
I am grateful for the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for it being granted. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister are fully aware of my constituent Mr Anoosheh Ashoori, who is currently being held in prison in Iran. Do the UK Government class Mr Ashoori as having been targeted because of his dual nationality, and can the Minister explain precisely what steps have been taken to secure his release in the light of the impact of the pandemic on prisoner safety?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the health of the British dual nationals held in incarceration. It is an issue that we take very seriously and have raised directly with the Iranian regime. I return to the point that we continue to work at every level, both from London and with our post in Tehran, to secure the permanent release of all the British dual nationals in detention.