Environment secretarys comments follow outrage from Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffes family over Boris Johnson remarks
Michael Gove has risked inflaming the situation of a British mother imprisoned in Iran by saying that he does not know what she was doing in the country, in contradiction of the governments official position that she was there on holiday.
The environment secretarys comments on the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe follow outrage from her family earlier this week after Boris Johnson said she was in Tehran training journalists. The remarks were seized upon by the Iranian state media as a confession and are believed to have left her facing an additional five years in prison.
Defending the foreign secretary on BBC1s Andrew Marr Show, Gove was asked what he thought Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran when she was arrested.
Gove replied: I dont know. One of the things I want to stress is that there is no reason why she should be in prison in Iran as far as I know.
Told by Marr that Zaghari-Ratcliffes husband, Richard, said she had been there on holiday, Gove said: I take exactly her husbands assurances in that regard. Her family are the people who should know.
Zaghari-Ratcliffes family have already said Johnsons comments were inaccurate and place her at further risk. Her employers say she had not taken part in the training of journalists.
There will be concerns that Goves remarks before he was corrected by Marr will be interpreted as giving weight to the idea that the British government does not believe she was on holiday.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 38-year-old project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been in prison since her arrest in Tehran in April last year.
Pressure has been building on Johnson since he told the foreign affairs select committee earlier this month that he believed she had been simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it.
On Sunday Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, wrote in the Observer that Johnson must be sacked immediately for undermining our country and putting our citizens at risk, saying that it was the mishandling of the heartbreaking case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe that persuaded him to call for the foreign secretarys dismissal.
Johnson is due to speak to Zaghari-Ratcliffes husband on Sunday, Richard Ratcliffe told the BBC on Saturday.
Gove deflected questions asking whether Johnson should correct his words for the record. The former education secretary said: If the Iranian judiciary want to use the words of a democrat in order to justify an unjustifiable decision, then it is our responsibility to call them out.
When Marr questioned whether Gove has changed his mind following comments made to the BBC last year that Johnson struggles with executive authority and clarity, Gove said: He is doing a great job as foreign secretary.
But Sadiq Khan told Marr that Johnson should resign or be sacked following his long list of gaffes as foreign secretary.
The London mayor raised questions about Johnsons suitability for the role after renewing calls for an apology and clarification over the ministers remarks.
Khan, who succeeded Johnson as London mayor, told Marr: I think its important that Boris Johnson clarifies the huge error he made Im hoping he clarifies his position, apologises and helps Richard and the family get Nazanin back home in London where she belongs.
Asked if he agreed with the suggestion by Corbyn that Johnson must resign, Khan replied: As your [newspaper] panel just said, this is the latest in a long list of gaffes made by our foreign secretary.
Hes offended the Libyans in relation to what he said about Sirte being the new Dubai, should they get rid of the bodies.