Last week Boris Johnson made one of the most extraordinary gaffes a British Foreign Secretary has ever made by uncritically repeating Iranian accusations against an imprisoned British citizen as if they were fact.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (who remains in an Iranian jail), her family and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office all consistently maintained that she was in Iran on holiday, with the purpose of introducing her young daughter to her Iranian parents. Despite this, Johnson decided to declare that she was in Iran “teaching journalism”, which is precisely what the Iranians have imprisoned her for.
The Iranian authorities have taken Johnson’s foolish remarks as confirmation that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in the country training propaganda agents, and the case against her has been reopened with the possibility of her jail sentence being dramatically extended.
After a week of blustering, evasions and carefully qualified non-apologies Johnson was called to parliament to answer urgent questions over his disgraceful handling of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case.
Here’s exactly what he said:
“I acknowledge that the words that I used were open to being misinterpreted and I apologise to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I have inadvertently caused them any further anguish.”
As we can see, this is another half-apology based on the false narrative that his words had been “misinterpreted” rather than being completely at odds with the established Foreign Office position that she was there on holiday.
We can also see that it’s a qualified apology which relies on the word “if” to equivocate about whether his refusal to admit his mistake and issue a clear and timely retraction had caused “further anguish”.
Boris even had the gall to bluster that he’s tired of apologising, claiming that he’s made statements correcting his mistake about a “dozen times”.
The problem of course is that for some reason Johnson’s ego won’t allow him to make an unqualified and unequivocal apology with no ifs, no buts, and no misleading attempts to create the impression that his public statement that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “training journalists” were somehow misunderstood, misinterpreted, or taken out of context.
If he’d just come out the following day and admitted that he’d made a terrible mistake, and that his assertion that she was in Iran training journalists was 100% wrong, he would obviously still have had his critics for having made the mistake in the first place, but by continually evading this kind of open unequivocal admission, and embedding his apologies in qualifying statements and misleading justifications, he’s only making it worse for himself.
Of course right-wingers will start leaping to his defence and recasting him as the poor innocent victim in the whole affair because people are still banging on at him to apologise, but these demands stem from the fact that he still won’t apologise in clear unequivocal terms for his mistake.
And that’s the thing that has so many people horrified: That even though the life of a British citizen hangs in the balance, Johnson’s bloated ego just won’t allow him to make a clear and concise apology without couching it in excuses and misleading justifications.