Two parents are starving themselves to death because of Boris Johnson
No-one has gone on hunger strike because of a British Prime Minister since 1981.
Then, IRA prisoners led by Bobby Sands died in a failed bid to convince Margaret Thatcher they were politicians and not criminals.
“Crime is crime is crime,” she said. She showed no sympathy over the deaths, telling Parliament Sands was “a convicted criminal” who had “taken his own life”. Ten died in all, causing riots in Northern Ireland, a surge in IRA recruitment, and creating a political base which led in 1983 to the election of Gerry Adams to Parliament.
Dealing with that strike required a judgement of Solomon – had Thatcher given in, Sinn Fein would have been even more powerful. Had she force-fed the prisoners, there’d be the same anger. There was nothing that could be done to improve the outcome, so she did nothing, and let the cards fall as they may.
It was a true politician’s decision. She weighed the options and chose the least worst. Unable to make things better, she let fate decide.
Today there is another man starving himself. Richard Ratcliffe is in an Iranian-built prison, which surrounds him wherever he goes.
Ratcliffe’s crime is that he is too polite. He has been nice to Boris Johnson, the British government, the Iranian Republican Guard, and calm and reasoned when dealing with journalists covering his story.
He is now, politely, in the 5th day of a hunger strike that is mirroring one conducted by his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Tehran. She has been jailed in Iran for 3 years on bogus charges because that country’s religious lunatics believe diplomacy works best when you take hostages.
Both of these non-criminal British citizens are imprisoned, in different places, for the same reason. They are decent, ordinary people, separated from their small daughter by the uncaring force of global geopolitics.
Boris Johnson, when he was Foreign Secretary, had the key to release them. He said he would.
“It’s not my fault,” he told the world. “It’s the guys who built the prison.
“The fact I said she’d committed a crime made no difference to the sentence she received.
“The fact my officials told the Press that I had a key, and it would imminently be turned, is a figment of this starving man’s light-headed imagination.
“I never had a key. Gosh, I wish I’d had a key! She’d be out now, I tell you. Poor old Nazanin, eh. What a pity.”
Or words to that effect.
Nazanin is on her second hunger strike. Her hair is falling out. She has found lumps in her breasts, and been denied medical care as well as consular visits. She’s spent 8 months in solitary confinement, been blindfolded, and denied light and fresh air. When she is allowed to walk, she has to do it blindfold.
Boris Johnson was made Foreign Secretary a month after she was arrested. And all he had to do, to get her out, was negotiate with people who wanted money.
These were people who his government was already trading with under the Iran nuclear deal. They were people who had a representative in the same city he worked in, were keen to talk, and were so desperate for cash they would have taken a lower offer from a world power whose approval they needed.
A true politician would have weighed the options and found a way. Boris simply f***ed it up.
Having barely glanced at his briefing papers, which will have noted the Iranian government’s baseless claim Nazanin was training BBC Persia journalists, he told a Foreign Affairs Select Committee this lie was the truth. Even though Nazanin was a junior administrator, even though a non-journalist doesn’t train hacks, even though he was being broadcast live around the world.
In less than a minute, he made global geopolitics worse. He made Iran stronger. He increased the bill that would have to be paid, and he extended the torture of not just one, but three innocents.
On the next working day, Nazanin was hauled back to court and told her sentence would be extended because of this “new evidence”. Within a fortnight, newspapers were briefed that the UK was about to repay an old £450m debt to Iran.
In public Boris was backsliding, denying, and harrumphing, telling Parliament “my remarks could have been clearer” and apologising to her family.
He flew to Iran for talks, with journalists briefed he’d be returning with Nazanin by his side. He told the Iranians she should be released on humanitarian grounds. He said he would “leave no stone unturned”, and then he left without her.
The money was never paid.
More negotiations were never held.
A year later, Boris resigned from government. Not because he was an incompetent negotiator, an unthinking fool, and a danger to British citizens who need his help. But in a huff about Brexit, that no-longer-popular disaster he is strangely keen to strangle himself with.
His replacement, Jeremy Hunt, vowed to do all he could to free Nazanin. He granted her diplomatic immunity which achieved nothing, he met her daughter for a PR stunt which made him look good, and then ruled out a prisoner exchange which might actually have worked.
Nazanin is still in jail. Her husband and daughter are still in jails of their own. While Boris Johnson, and Jeremy Hunt, are competing to be in charge of the most delicate and important negotiation of our lifetimes.
Brexit requires not just a politician, but the deftest diplomatic touch in history. It needs someone with the courage to be Solomon, to either take an economic loss for a political win, or reverse those options.
It cannot be left to fate. It cannot be left to someone who does not read the detail, and whose mouth must be gaffer-taped shut by his media handlers before he is wheeled out for public utterances.
All that Boris – and Jeremy, to a lesser extent – have shown they can achieve is to abort negotiations, miscarry the facts, twist principles and chase headlines.
They have abandoned three British citizens, two of whom are now starving themselves politely in the hope the men who have incarcerated them might be stirred to look once more for that key.
It is worth noting, perhaps, that unlike the Brexit divorce bill the £450m Britain owes Iran is not in dispute. The High Court holds the money. Paying it is not only Britain’s legal and moral duty, it would free Nazanin and other dual-nationality prisoners from Iranian hellholes where they simply should not be, and it is not as though we could spend it on anything else.
It is the right thing to do, but it has not been done because the wrong people keep being asked what to do next. If the man who did not do it is the best the Conservative Party can produce, then both it and Brexit are about to be thoroughly screwed.