Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

UK pushes for trade talks to solve Northern Ireland border issue — “There’s a sense of jumping into the dark here.” — Johnson and Coveney publicly disagree on a series of issues during early morning press conference

November 17, 2017


Image result for Simon Coveney, boris johnson, photos

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson


DUBLIN (AFP) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Friday called on Brussels to move on to post-Brexit trade talks to solve the Irish border issue, despite a warning from the EU that London still had work to do.

“The issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually, intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market, Britain’s relationship with those.

“Those questions have been reserved by the (European) Commission for study in stage two of the negotiations. I think logically now is the time to proceed to stage two,” Johnson said at a Dublin press conference with his Irish counterpart Simon Coveney.

Deciding the future of Britain’s only land border with the European Union has been a top priority for Brussels, with all sides determined to avoid a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“We need to get on with this, but our view is that you can only really crack the problem in the context of a wider understanding of how the new customs arrangements are going to work,” said Johnson.

– May under pressure? –

The foreign minister’s comments followed a warning from European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who on Friday said Britain must do “more work” before moving onto trade talks.

“The clock is ticking. I hope that we will be able to come to an agreement as far as the divorce is concerned at the December council (summit) but work has still to be done,” Juncker told reporters as he arrived at an EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Brexit minister, David Davis, are also in Gothenburg for the ?European Social Summit.

After London failed to convince Brussels last month that sufficient progress had been made in divorce talks to move onto negotiating a future trade deal, Davis on Friday called on the EU to compromise.

“Surprise, surprise: nothing comes for nothing in this world,” he told the BBC in Gothenburg.

Various EU countries “can see there are big, big benefits in the future deal that we’re talking about,” he added.

Arriving at the summit, May said she hoped the EU would respond “positively” to British proposals so that negotiators could move on to discuss future ties.

The prime minister is reportedly under pressure from Johnson and fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove, Britain’s environment minister, who according to a leaked memo have tried to instruct her on how to run the exit negotiations.


Boris Johnson visits Simon Coveney in Dublin… and they’re already disagreeing in early morning press conference

Johnson and Coveney publicly disagree on a series of issues during early morning press conference

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson6
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A massive gulf between Ireland and the UK in the Brexit negotiations was in clear evidence as Boris Johnson arrived in Dublin today.

The UK’s Foreign Secretary and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney publicly disagreed on a series of issues during an early morning press conference.

In particular Mr Johnson said the future of the border region cannot be decided until the second phase of the Brexit talks.

Asked to offer up even a hypothetical vision of how a ‘frictionless border’ might work, Mr Johnson said the British government’s view “is you can only really crack the problem” in the second phase of the talks.

Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)66
Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

By contrast Mr Coveney said: “The parameters [of how a post-Brexit border might work] need to be a lot clearer and more credible before we go on to phase two.”

The European Council will meet next month to decide whether the talks should move past negotiations on the so-called divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish question.

Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)66
Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

Mr Coveney admitted there is “an impasse” in relation to the border and urged the UK government to consider keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union.

The minister said everybody wants the talks to progress but “we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that”.

Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)66
Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

Mr Coveney also called for a lengthy transitional period of up to five years to allow businesses adjust to life after Brexit.

This was rejected by Mr Johnson who said he was unaware that IReland support “such a long transitional period”.

He said the “maximum reassurance” for companies and people can be provided “in a much shorter timescale”.

Mr Johnson said Brexit should “proceed as fast as possible”.

Despite the clear diplomatic split emerging between Dublin and London, Mr Johnson did reiterate that the UK has “no interest whatsoever in seeing a hard border”.

But Mr Coveney responded that the challenge is to find “a credible roadmap to get us there”.

“There’s a sense of jumping into the dark here,” he said.

Separately Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May in Gothenburg today.

Online Editors


Ireland not ready to let Brexit talks move to stage 2 — Boris Johnson says UK Committed To Early Settlement

November 17, 2017


DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland is not ready to allow talks on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union to move to the second phase next month, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday.

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Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Ireland Simon Coveney speaks on stage during the Fine Gael national party conference in Ballyconnell, Ireland November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“Yes we all want to move onto phase two of the Brexit negotiations but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that. We have very serious issues, particularly around the (UK-Irish) border, that need more clarity,” Coveney told a news conference before a meeting with his British counterpart Boris Johnson.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy



Britain’s Johnson says work to be done to solve Irish border issue

DUBLIN (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday the UK government was not minimizing the issue of the Irish border in Brexit negotiations and would work with Dublin to solve it.

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Boris Johnson, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, arrives in Downing Street, London, November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Speaking in Dublin, he also said that Britain had no interest in any kind of so-called hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

He added that he understood why Ireland wanted a four to five-year Brexit transition period for Britain, but said transition was possible within a much tighter timescale.

“I understand the sentiment behind it, which is that everybody wants to have the maximum possible reassurance,” he said.

“I think it’s possible to do that in a much shorter timescale… Now is the time to make haste (on moving onto stage two of Brexit talks) and perhaps we don’t need to wait quite so long to give business final certainty about how it’s all going to work.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin, writing by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton

Britain preparing plan to transfer £400m to Iran as Boris Johnson vows to do everything to bring home Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

November 16, 2017
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen with her daughter Gabriella
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that ‘no stone would be left unturned’ to secure the return to Britain of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe 

Britain is preparing plans to transfer over £400 million to Iran to secure “goodwill”, the Telegraph understands, as the Foreign Secretary vowed to do “everything” he can to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Officials have sought legal advice regarding US and United Nations sanctions which have so far prevented them from handing over the money, the result of a controversial 1970s arms deal, amid claims the British mother is being held as “collateral”.

It came as an Iranian news agency reported that Mr Johnson is due to visit the country next week.

Senior Whitehall sources have told The Telegraph that while the Government is at pains to ensure the payment is not directly linked with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, work has intensified in recent months in a bid to improve relations with Iran.

Diplomats believe handing over the money, which is being held in a frozen account by the courts and…

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Britain preparing to transfer 400 million pounds to Iran

November 16, 2017


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is preparing to transfer over 400 million pounds ($527 million) to Iran as it seeks the release of a jailed Iranian-British aid worker, The Telegraph newspaper reported, citing unidentified British sources.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen with her daughter Gabriella


Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years after being convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denies the charges.

Britain has sought legal advice over whether it could transfer the funds which it owes as a result of a disputed arms deal in the 1970s. Diplomats told the newspaper that any payment should not be linked to the fate of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters. It operates independently of Reuters News.

A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office could not be reached for comment out of normal business hours.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton


Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe tells Boris Johnson to consider the effect of his ‘gaffe’ on her imprisonment

Jailed woman’s husband meets Foreign Secretary and passes on her demand that he consider ‘what it’s like to watch yourself being called a spy on TV every night’

By Adam Lusher

The Independent

Boris Johnson has been confronted with the demand of the British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran, to imagine what it is like to sit in a foreign prison and watch Iranian TV news bulletins call you a spy every night.

The plea from Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe came 14 days after a gaffeby the Foreign Secretary was seized upon by Iranian authorities, who took Mr Johnson’s incorrect comments as a confession that the London mother was plotting against the Iranian government.

Her comment was relayed by her husband Richard Ratcliffe, who emerged from a one-hour meeting with Mr Johnson on Wednesday saying: “I absolutely believe my wife when she says she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I am deeply worried about her health.”

Mr Ratcliffe, a 42-year-old accountant, said: “Nazanin was there on the evening news again last night, and that’s hugely upsetting for her.

“That is the one point she wanted to make to the Foreign Secretary: what it’s like to watch yourself being called a spy on TV every night, which has happened only in the last two weeks.”

The Iranian media’s intense interest in Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sparked when two weeks ago, on 1 November, when Mr Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC): “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it.”

Mr Ratcliffe and his wife’s employer the Thomson Reuters Foundation both said this was a complete error, repeating that the charity worker had been on an innocent holiday in Iran and has never taught journalists in her life. But it was immediately seized upon in Iranto help build a case that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, had been working to engineer the “soft overthrow” of the Iranian government.

On Saturday 4 November, the first Iranian working day after Mr Johnson’s gaffe, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken before hardline judge Abolghassem Salavati to be told there were new accusations against her, under a new charge of “spreading propaganda against the regime”.

Iranian TV news networks started presenting Mr Johnson’s remarks as an accidental confession, and it was feared the new charges would lead to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe having five years added to the five-year sentence that she is already serving for supposedly threatening Iranian national security.

It took Mr Johnson 12 days to apologise for his mistake.

Mr Ratcliffe said that when he confronted Mr Johnson with his wife’s comment: “He acknowledged the urgency of her situation, and said he was doing all he could to get her home.”

Mr Ratcliffe, who has called for Mr Johnson to sort out the “mess” caused by his remarks while stopping short of calling for his resignation, added that his wife “hadn’t asked for him to apologise”.

Mr Ratcliffe also revealed that Mr Johnson had been asked about an apparent leak to The Sun which quoted an unnamed minister in a story suggesting that the British Government had been presented with “a multi-million pound shopping list of demands to free Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe”.

These included that Britain settle a 38-year-old £400m bill after reneging on an arms deal, arranged just before the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, to sell Chieftan tanks to Iran.

Mr Johnson said he had no knowledge of the story or the leak.

Mr Ratcliffe has long complained that his wife is being used as a “bargaining chip” by Iran.

While making clear that he wants his wife’s case settled on the basis of justice, rather than some quid pro quo bargaining arrangement with Iran, he admitted: “It is important that the UK honours its international legal obligations so that Iran can honour its legal obligations.

“They are separate things but it is good for the atmosphere if they are all solved.”

The Chieftain tanks arms deal has been the subject of a decades-long court case. Iran paid money up-front for the tanks but after the overthrow of the Shah they were not delivered.

It is understood that the Government is looking into ways to pay Iran, but this has been complicated by sanctions against the country.

During the meeting with Mr Johnson, Mr Ratcliffe, who hopes to join the Foreign Secretary on his forthcoming visit to Iran, again pressed the case that his dual-national wife should be given diplomatic protection by the UK Government.

He told reporters that granting his wife diplomatic protection would allow the UK to go beyond consular requests for fair treatment in captivity and instead demand that a British citizen be released.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “Diplomatic protection is the way forward. It changes the nature of the conversation and states that Nazanin has been treated badly because she is British and is entitled to be protected as an extension of the British state.”

Mr Ratcliffe said Mr Johnson “expressed reservations” about this course of action, without outlining what they were.

One potential complication is that Iran tends not to recognise dual nationality and has previously insisted on treating Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe as wholly Iranian.

At about the same time that Mr Ratcliffe was meeting Mr Johnson, Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna) was quoting an “international jurist” as saying: “As Zaghari has dual British-Iranian citizenship, and Iran doesn’t recognise her British citizenship, the principle [of diplomatic protection] is fundamentally impractical.”

Mr Ratcliffe’s lawyers are expected to meet soon with counterparts from the Foreign Office to discuss the legal ramifications of diplomatic protection.

Mr Ratcliffe accepted that giving his wife diplomatic protection would escalate the situation, but insisted: “It would signal that the way Nazanin is being treated is unacceptable.

“I appreciate it is an escalation, but where softly-softly doesn’t work and where it has been escalated by the past couple of weeks’ events and the Foreign Secretary’s words being used, it is appropriate.”

Mr Johnson told Mr Ratcliffe that he and the Foreign Office were calling for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Johnson has spoken to his Iranian foreign ministry counterparts about concerns for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health, which also include the recent discovery of lumps on her breasts that an Iranian consultant thinks are probably benign, despite her family history of breast cancer.

Mr Ratcliffe said the meeting with Mr Johnson had been “positive”, adding: “He said sorry it had taken so long for us to meet.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The Foreign Secretary and officials outlined that the key question is whether diplomatic protection will have a positive impact on the case, given all the representations that have already been made.

“They agreed that lawyers should meet in the coming fortnight to discuss it further.”

“They also talked about the Foreign Secretary’s plan to visit Iran before the end of the year and Richard Ratcliffe’s request to accompany him on that visit.

“The Foreign Secretary said that our overriding principle in handling this case is to secure a permanent family reunion, not a temporary one. Any decision must be guided by that principle.

“The Foreign Secretary concluded the meeting by saying that no stone would be left unturned in the case of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and that of our other dual nationals detained in Iran.”

Theresa May’s ability to deliver Brexit in doubt amid growing threat to her leadership

November 13, 2017

The Prime Minister must push through her Brexit legislation this week after a torrid 10 days

By Joe Watts Political Editor

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Theresa May. Credit PA Wire – PA Images

Theresa May’s ability to deliver Brexit is in doubt amid a growing threat to her leadership and concerns over whether she still has the political clout to govern.

Ms May must this week renew the drive to push her EU withdrawal Bill through the House of Commons, with Tory MPs who backed Remain in the referendum threatening to join forces with Jeremy Corbyn’s party to impose changes.

But Labour and other opposition parties warned that Ms May no longer has enough authority over the Conservatives to secure the Bill’s passage, after it emerged some 40 Tory MPs may now be willing to sign a letter of no confidence in her and a note emerged in which two cabinet ministers appear to direct her Brexit policy.

It also follows reports that the EU is preparing for the collapse of Brexit talks and of her Government, which is torn between trying to give more ground in Brexit talks to achieve progress while also maintaining the support of Eurosceptic Tories who want no further compromise.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on Monday raising concerns that she no longer has the influence over her own party to deliver key facets of a successful Brexit – in particular, securing a transition period to smooth the withdrawal.

The letter said: “Over recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that you alone do not have the authority to deliver a transitional deal with Europe and to take the necessary steps to protect jobs and the economy.”

© AFP | The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain needed to increase its offer on its exit bill

Brexit: Article 50 author says Theresa May is misleading the public on reversing result

The letter urged the Government to work with Labour, accepting its amendments to her Bill to come to an agreed position in the “national interest”.

The most difficult Commons battle over her EU withdrawal Bill will not occur until December, after the Budget, but even if it clears its stages in the lower House, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Vince Cable has told The Independent it will be amended in the Lords by a coalition of opposition and crossbench peers and Tory rebels.

Sir Keir’s letter went on to point out how cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, had appeared to make statements that contradicted her Brexit plans as set out in a major speech in Florence earlier in the year.

Reports also emerged at the weekend that Mr Johnson and fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, wrote a secret memo to the Prime Minister setting out how a transition should occur and indicating that she should be “underlining your resolve” over withdrawal.

The SNP’s Stephen Gethins said: “If it wasn’t clear before, it is now – Theresa May has lost all authority and credibility in government.

“The revelation that leading Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are now brazenly able to dictate their hard Brexit demands … goes to show that they think they can say and do as they please, knowing fine well Theresa May is powerless to act.

“Theresa May is Prime Minister only by title.”

EU chief negotiator: UK has two weeks to agree Brexit ‘divorce’ bill or no trade talks this year

A torrid 10 days has seen Ms May lose two cabinet ministers, Sir Michael Fallon and Priti Patel, while her deputy Damian Green is still under investigation over allegations of inappropriate behaviour which he denies, and Mr Johnson is defending himself against calls to resign over a diplomatic gaffe relating to British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is imprisoned in Iran.

Amid the turmoil the number of MPs willing to put their name to a letter of no confidence is reported to have risen to 40, just eight short of the number needed to trigger a vote on Ms May’s future.

A senior Tory MP told The Independent: “Patience is wearing very thin and in some cases, it has snapped.”

But Brexit Secretary David Davis said he is “quite certain” Ms May will remain Prime Minister at least throughout Brexit, dismissing the Government’s recent series of crises as “flurries” and adding that all governments have “issues that come up and go”.

Gordon Brown on Brexit: Britain will hit a ‘crisis point’ next summer

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed reports that Brussels is planning for Brexit talks to collapse, though he said it is not the preferred option.

On other reports of EU leaders actively planning for a situation where Ms May is not Prime Minister, Mr Davis said: “I know it was in the papers, I would be very surprised if they really are planning that.

“The Prime Minister will be here right through Brexit, to my retirement as it were until the end of Brexit and she’ll be my boss for that – I’m quite certain of it.”

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London mayor calls on British foreign minister Johnson to resign

November 12, 2017

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The mayor of London Sadiq Khan delivers a speech at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) – London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on British foreign minister Boris Johnson on Sunday to resign after a series of gaffes which he said had offended Libyans, Americans, the Spanish and others.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Khan said Johnson “has to go”.

Johnson accused of jeopardising case of Briton in Iran jail

November 7, 2017


© Free Nazanin campaign/AFP/File | Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British citizen, is being held in Iran on charges of taking part in a “sedition movement” of protests

LONDON (AFP) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced calls to quit Tuesday over a “slip of the tongue” that Iran is now using to partly justify further charges against an Iranian-British national detained in Tehran.

Johnson told a parliamentary committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran when she was arrested for alleged sedition last year — something her employer and her family insist is incorrect.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in court on Saturday to face further charges, brought in early October, that carry a 16-year jail term.

The Iranian judiciary issued an online article on Sunday saying that Johnson’s comments proved that she wasn’t on holiday, as claimed, backing the justification for new charges.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Johnson’s comments may have been “misrepresented” and provided “no justifiable basis” for additional charges.

Johnson was due to call Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday in a bid to defuse the situation.

Richard Ratcliffe, the detainee’s husband, told AFP that Johnson “made a factual error, and then it felt more ominous on Sunday when that factual error was being used to justify her detention.”

He said that Johnson’s phone call to his Iranian counterpart was “not good enough” and that he needed to officially correct the record to send a message to Iran’s judiciary.

“He made a statement in parliament that’s being manipulated; another statement in parliament is the natural way of clarifying that.”

He added that Saturday’s court appearance had left his wife “very stressed and upset”.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), the media organisation’s philanthropic arm, was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016 after visiting family.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards accused her of having taken part in the “sedition movement” of protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of then hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Zaghari-Ratcliffe denies the charges.

She is serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran but last month was presented with extra charges carrying a possible 16-year prison term, her employers said.

TRF said those charges were that she had joined organisations specifically working to overthrow the regime, referring to her media charity work in London, and that she once attended a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy in Britain’s capital.

– Pressure to quit –

Following Johnson’s comments, TRF chief executive Monique Villa urged him to “immediately correct the serious mistake”.

“She is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the TRF where she is project manager,” Villa said in a statement.

“She was in Iran on holiday to show her daughter Gabriella to her grandparents.”

Emily Thornberry, foreign affairs spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour Party, wrote to Johnson urging him to quit if his actions have damaged Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prospects of freedom.

“I hope and trust you will take full responsibility for that,” she said in a letter published by Politics Home.

Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told Sky News television that he did not believe Johnson had made “a serious gaffe”.

Fox said the situation was being used as an attempt to discredit Johnson without thinking of the possible consequences.

“The most important thing is to do what he’s doing today: to make very clear to his Iranian counterpart that this would not be any excuse for extending an illegal detention,” Fox also told BBC radio.

“We all make slips of the tongue. I think we’ve got to be very careful that we’re not over-reacting to this.

“He will determine with the Iranian foreign minister exactly the best way to ensure that she can be released.”


Boris Johnson gaffe that could see Briton jailed for longer in Iran ‘was slip of the tongue and people shouldn’t overreact’, says Liam Fox

November 7, 2017

Mr Johnson faces calls to resign ahead of a planned call with his Iranian counterpart on Tuesday

By Joe Watts Political Editor

Boris Johnson’s ‘slip of the tongue’ could double woman’s jail term. Liam Fox says people should not ‘overreact’

Cabinet minister Liam Fox has said people should not overreact to “slips of the tongue”, after a verbal gaffe by Boris Johnson led to a British citizen being threatened with a longer prison term in Iran.

Dr Fox was attempting to defend the Foreign Secretary after incorrect comments he made in Parliament led to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being hauled in front of an Iranian court and told her sentence may be doubled to ten years.

Mr Johnson was to call his Iranian counterpart today to undo damage after telling a committee hearing that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked in Tehran teaching journalism before she was arrested and jailed for spreading propaganda – despite a central part of her defence being that she had never done so.

He has failed to make a public apology or admission that his words were incorrect, as Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called for him to resign if turns out that charity worker Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is imprisoned for longer.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Fox said: “We all make slips of the tongue, we’ve got to be very careful that we are not overreacting to this in a way that is going to give the Iranians [an excuse to extend the sentence].”

He also said: “I think it’s important we keep this in perspective. First of all this is a UK citizen being held on extreme and unproven charges in an entirely unacceptable way. It’s right that we constantly remind people that her detention is utterly unacceptable in an international way .

“The point the Foreign Secretary was making was that this arrest and detention of a UK citizen is not acceptable.”

Mr Johnson’s appearance at a select committee last week saw him insist Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent and condemn her treatment, but he then added “she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it.”

Shortly after she was taken to an unscheduled court hearing in Iran where Mr Johnson’s comments were cited as proof of her guilt.

She now faces new charges of spreading propaganda against Iran and has been threatened with another five years in prison – on top of her existing five-year sentence.

Pressure is mounting on the Foreign Secretary to repair the damage. In a letter to Mr Johnson Labour’s Ms Thornberry said his comments had revealed “a fundamental lack of interest or concern for the details of Nazanin’s case and the consequences of your words.”

She said: “While your previous gaffes in the role of Foreign Secretary may have seriously damaged this country’s interests abroad, and caused grave offence to our international partners, this is – I believe – the first time that one of your comments has directly harmed the interests and prospects of a British national who instead should have been entitled to expect your support and aid.”

The Labour frontbencher said responsibility for the crisis is “your alone”, accusing him of committing a “gross error” and being guilty of “ineptitude”.

Jailed in Iran: Richard Ratcliffe calls on the government to bring Nazanin home

She added: “In the event that your actions have indeed cause irreparable harm to Nazanin’s prospects of freedom and result in her sentence being lengthened, I hope and trust that you will take full responsibility for that, in both a moral and political sense, and consider your position accordingly.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said he had no doubt the fresh charges were triggered by the Foreign Secretary’s remarks, adding: “The worst thing the Foreign Secretary could do is to now suddenly go quiet and to create this problem without making any clarifications.

“I think that’s really important. You can’t make a muddle and then leave it. That would be the worst of both worlds.”

Mr Johnson is yet to comment on the controversy but the Foreign Office issued a statement apparently accepting that his remarks had raised the threat of a longer prison term.


Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is under pressure over his gaffe (WPA Pool/Getty Images)

A spokesman said: “Last week’s remarks by the Foreign Secretary provide no justifiable basis on which to bring any additional charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“While criticising the Iranian case against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Foreign Secretary sought to explain that even the most extreme set of unproven Iranian allegations against her were insufficient reason for her detention and treatment.”

It added that Mr Johnson would be telephoning his Iranian counterpart to “raise again his serious concerns about the case and ensure his remarks are not misrepresented”.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, was separated from her 21-month-old daughter Gabriella when she was arrested as she tried to return home to London after a two-week holiday.

Gabriella, now three, remains at the Tehran home of Nazanin’s parents, while her mother is in a high-security Iranian jail and her father in London.

Russians ‘set up shop’ in Scotland to force new independence vote

November 2, 2017

By Nick Allen and Jack Maidment

The Telegraph
1 NOVEMBER 2017 • 10:08PM

A U.S.  senator has warned that Russian cyber operatives are “setting up shop” in Scotland to foment support for a second independence referendum.

Senator Angus King told a Washington hearing into Russian interference in last year’s US presidential election that Scotland was also on the Kremlin’s target list.

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He told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “We know the Russians were involved in the French election. We know that they were involved in the German elections. We are now learning they were involved in the separation of Spain.

“And my understanding is they’ve set up shop in Scotland which is talking about an independence vote from Great Britain. This is a sophisticated worldwide strategy. It hasn’t stopped and it won’t stop.”

 Image result for Scottish independence, Photos

On Wednesday night a senior MP demanded answers from Facebook on whether Russians were using the social network to cause discord in Scotland.

Damian Collins, the chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said he would press the company on the matter as part of the committee’s investigation into the impact of fake news on British politics.

Facebook ad
A Facebook advert posted by Russian operatives in the US presidential election

He said: “We are interested in any political activity on Facebook in the UK which has been driven by Russian backed organisations. “We will certainly be asking Facebook about this as part of our inquiry into the power of fake news to disrupt our democracy.”

The warning from the US came as Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, told MPs he had seen no evidence of Russian interference in British elections or referendums so far.

He told the Foreign Affairs select committee: “I haven’t seen any evidence of that.” Told that he seemed uncertain after giving a slow response, he added: “No, I haven’t seen it. Not a sausage … nyet, nyet, nyet.”

Senator Angus King at a Senate Intelligence committee hearing CREDIT: REUTERS

Mr Johnson was then pushed on whether he thought Russia had played any role, or sought to play a role, in the UK’s democracy and he replied: “I don’t know about sought to play, but as far as I know they have played no role.”

Meanwhile, a leading Brexit donor, Arron Banks, insisted the vote to leave the EU was not “funded by the Russians” after the UK elections watchdog said it was investigating whether he breached campaign finance rules in the referendum.

The Electoral Commission said it was looking into whether Mr Banks was the “true source” of three loans worth £6 million on non-commercial terms to the Leave.EU campaign he chairs.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, gives evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee CREDIT: PA

It is also investigating whether Better for the Country Limited (BFTCL), a company that lists Mr Banks as a director and has its registered office at the same address as Leave.EU, was acting as an “agent” when it donated £2.3 million to five registered campaigners.

Earlier this year there was a warning from Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, that the Kremlin may seek to interfere in any second Scottish independence referendum.

Sir Andrew said Russia would seek to break up the United Kingdom and presented a “widespread set of risks” for its democracy.

In Washington, Mr King spoke as US senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee grilled executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google about what they were doing to prevent Russia influencing elections using their networks.

Mr King said the committee had interviewed 100 witnesses and gone through hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.

Speaking ahead of the hearing he said: “The Russians egregiously meddled in our democracy in 2016, they’re still doing it, and they’re going to do it again. And they’re set up in Spain now and they’re setting up in Scotland.

“They have discovered a way to turn the strengths of our country and the West against ourselves.

“I call it geopolitical jiu jitsu, where they’re taking advantage of our free press and our open society and driving divisions.”

Another advert used in Russia’s cyber camapign

Mr King, an Independent who votes with the Democratic Party in the Senate, added: “This is information warfare, it’s just like armed warfare. All of what the Russians did last year has basically been a free pass.”

Facebook has admitted that content posted on its network by Russian operatives was seen by around 126 million Americans during last year’s presidential election, and it has vowed to “do better” to stop it.

Its executives blamed the Internet Research Agency, an online “troll factory” in St Petersburg carrying out influence operations for the Russian government.

It generated 80,000 posts on Facebook between January 2015 and August 2017, which were then widely shared.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Facebook, Twitter and Google executives: “I don’t think you get it. You have a huge problem on your hands and you bear the responsibility.

“You created these platforms and now they are being misused. You have to be the ones to do something about it or we will.”

At the hearing Facebook admitted that another 20 million Americans were also exposed to Russian information on its picture sharing service Instagram during the presidential election.

Mr King criticised Mr Zuckerberg and his counterparts at Twitter and Google after the companies sent their top lawyers to answer questions.

He told the lawyers: “I’m disappointed that you’re here. We would appreciate seeing the top people who are actually making the decisions.”

Israel Ponders Iran, Terror Tunnels and Palestiniand Unity — Netanyahu Travels To the UK for Talks

November 1, 2017
 NOVEMBER 1, 2017 14:23


Questions emerge as to Iran’s role in Gaza as Abbas set to take over security control of Strip.

Hamas tunnels

Hamas terror operatives in Gaza tunnel. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Israel Defense Forces on Monday destroyed a subterranean attack tunnel stretching east from the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, reaching within a mile of the Kibbutz Kissufim border community. According to military officials, construction of the tunnel, which was ongoing, began only after conclusion of the seven-week war against Hamas in 2014. The IDF did not reveal who dug the passageway but stressed that it ultimately holds Hamas “accountable and responsible” for all violent acts emanating from Gaza as its governing authority.

Seven terrorists were killed in the operation, including two high-ranking members of the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Arafat Abu Murshad, its central Gaza commander; and his deputy Hassan Abu Hassanein. Two ranking Hamas members who also perished were believed to have died from asphyxiation after they entered the tunnel to save others who were inside when the Israelis collapsed the structure.

The Israeli security echelon is evaluating a number of perplexities stemming from the mission, including whether the presence of both high-ranking Hamas and senior Islamic Jihad loyalists indicates a new level of cooperation presumably tied to the Iranians, with whom Hamas is striving to build its relationship. Earlier this month a Hamas delegation visited Tehran seeking closer ties and more funding to support its military ambitions against the Jewish state. One distinct possibility is taking “good-cop; bad-cop” to the next level with Hamas camouflaging its involvement in terror in order not to destroy the reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, and thereby sacrificing its place in the Palestinian unified government. Islamic Jihad would be the ideal partner for such a scheme.

For Iran, all scenarios appear to be “win-win.” As it extends its reach into Gaza it is consolidating its control over the Lebanese government via the Hezbollah terrorist organization which also provides inroads into southern Syria.

Pointedly, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned “the bloodthirsty Zionist regime” for destroying the tunnel, an act he described as precipitated by a desire to “guarantee [Israel’s] security by killing Palestinian youths.”

According to Yaakov Lappin, an Israeli military correspondent and analyst, “Islamic Jihad has had its own tunnel program since 2014 and this particular one appears to have been part of the network. Even so, it is very unlikely that Hamas did not know about it.

“The two groups have in recent years been cooperating,” he explained to The Media Line, “as well as coordinating their responses to Israel based on the understanding that any independent action could pull both groups into an unwanted war.”

Lappin raised the possibility that the Islamic Republic directed its underling to purposely dig into Israeli territory as a provocation. “The Iranians would very much like to turn Gaza into one of the bases that is used to target Israel, as well as to use the enclave as a point of entry into the West Bank, which they have been trying to access for years.”

Speaking to The Media Line, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yosef Kuperwasser, head of the Regional Research Project at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, explained that, “The effort dates back to the Second Intifada [a period of intense terrorism characterized by Palestinian suicide bombings between 2000 and 2005]. Tehran has attempted to do this through Islamic Jihad, which it created and completely controls, and also by financing Hamas.”

Dr. Eitan Shamir, former director of the National Security Doctrine Department in Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, agrees that Islamic Jihad—and, by extension, Tehran—is asserting itself in the Gaza Strip. “It is clearly taking a more active role, whereas Hamas has recently tried to assume a relatively moderate posture. While both are committed to the ‘resistance’ [read anti-Israel violence], Hamas is more constrained [by political realities].”

Nevertheless, he told The Media Line that “the [destroyed] tunnel was likely known to Hamas, so it may either be ignoring these actions or perhaps trying to operate under the cover of Islamic Jihad. Overall, Hamas cannot put itself in a position to restrain Islamic Jihad as they are both being financed by the same patron.”

The discovery of the attack tunnel—whether constructed with Hamas’ tacit approval to achieve plausible deniability or at its explicit directive—creates additional problems when viewed against the backdrop of the unity deal signed with Abbas’ Fatah faction.

On the diplomatic front, Jerusalem has repeatedly vowed not to engage in peace negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas and the latest tunnel incident will likely solidify this position, even as Israel continues to cooperate with Abbas on various levels in the West Bank.

It is, after all, in the interest of both parties to ensure that Hamas in particular is not able to expand the scope of its terror operations. Additionally, U.S. President Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-unveiled peace initiative will likely provide a “loophole” to effectively sideline Hamas from any talks, thereby enabling Jerusalem to enter into a process with Abbas while saving face.

The situation, however, is more complex and potentially explosive from a security standpoint with Abbas set to assume total control over Gaza by December 1. There is widespread doubt he can prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad from continuing to arm themselves to the teeth—with the assistance of Iran—while threatening Israel with attack tunnels.

Lappin reinforced the notion that Hamas will remain the dominant military presence in Gaza for the foreseeable future. “Abbas will not be able to send a sizeable security force into the enclave, but rather the idea is that Hamas’ armed wing will pledge allegiance to the unity government. But [the Palestinian leader] is not deluded—he recognizes the limitations.”

According to Kuperwasser, “the lesson for Israel is that it should not be tempted to believe in the illusion that the [Fatah-Hamas] agreement will lead to less terrorism from Gaza.” He further stressed that Jerusalem “should hold up the [tunnel] example to the international community as evidence of what Hamas is and will continue to be.” 

Kuperwasser concluded by highlighting the perils of an evolving dynamic in Gaza: “What would have happened if the Palestinian Authority had already assumed responsibility in the Strip and then Islamic Jihad responded to the destroyed tunnel by firing rockets into Israel? And what if there was a further escalation after Israel retaliated?

“Abbas would have been caught in the middle. What would he do in such an impossible situation?”

Netanyahu Heads to UK For Talks

Ahead of Netanyahu trip to London, UK’s support for Israel hits seven-year high

UK-based think tank’s poll shows drop in backing for the BDS movement, especially among youth

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his British counterpart, Theresa May, in London on Monday, February 6, 2017 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his British counterpart, Theresa May, in London on Monday, February 6, 2017 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

LONDON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies to London this week as support for Israel in Britain rises to a seven-year high, according to a new poll.

The survey for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre(BICOM), a UK-based think tank, also shows a drop in backing for the BDS movement, particularly among young people, and suggests Britons view Israel as a key ally in the fight against terrorism.

Netanyahu will be in Britain to participate in a series of events marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The BICOM research, carried out by the Populus polling company, provided respondents with the text of the 1917 pledge by the British government to support the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

(Courtesy BICOM)

Thirty-eight percent of voters said the UK government had adopted the right policy, with 17% disagreeing. Nearly half of those surveyed — a representative sample of 2,000 British voters — agreed that “hating Israel and questioning its right to exist” is anti-Semitic. Seventeen percent believed that it was not.

The results were welcomed by the CEO of BICOM, James Sorene, as evidence of “a significant silent majority who support Zionism in Britain today.”

While the vocal anti-Israel lobby in the UK has led some to view London as the BDS capital of the world, public support for the boycott movement is limited to a small minority of voters. Only 11% of those surveyed said they backed the BDS movement with 48% agreeing with the statement that they do not support boycotts of Israel “and find it difficult to understand how others do given everything else that is going on in the world.”

Backing for BDS in Britain has fallen to its lowest level since 2014. Perhaps most significantly, young people appear to be turning away from boycotts. Forty-five percent of those aged 18-24 said they opposed BDS, a figure which has risen by 17% over the past two years.

(Courtesy BICOM)

In a year in which Britain has experienced a series of deadly attacks, Israel is viewed as the UK’s most important Middle Eastern ally in the fight against terrorism. Forty-nine percent agreed it was a key ally against only 18% who disagreed.

But, as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in 2019, Israel ranks only fourth — behind Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey — among Middle East states seen by Britons as important post-Brexit trading partners. Earlier this year, UK and Israeli ministers held the first meeting of a newly established UK-Israel Trade Working Group. Trade between the two countries is already worth nearly £5 billion ($6.6 million) per year.

Challenges for pro-Israel activists in the UK remain, though, as underlined by the fact that, while public support for Israel is at its highest level since 2010, just 21% of Britons expressed warm feelings towards the Jewish state, as against 50% who view it negatively. Thirty percent indicated a neutral opinion.

(Courtesy BICOM)

Nonetheless, Britons appear to view Israel more positively than the Palestinian Authority and Russia and have a significantly warmer view of the country than they do of Iran. Israel’s ratings, which are considerably lower than those of the United States, are comparable with Turkey’s.

As hostility towards it appears to be dropping, the political divide between Britain’s two main parties over Israel has rarely been starker.

Last week Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain should mark the Balfour Declaration centenary “with pride,” while her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, wrote that the document was “indispensable to the creation of a great nation.”

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time anti-Israel campaigner, has snubbed an invitation to a high-profile Balfour gala dinner this week.

British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a meeting of the Party of European Socialists in Brussels, on October 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/John Thys)

His refusal to attend the dinner, at which Netanyahu will be present, was described as “deeply unfortunate” by the Jewish Leadership Council. In Corbyn’s place, Labour will send the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry.

In an interview with the Middle East Eye website published on Monday, she said Israel had “lost its way,” adding: “I don’t think we celebrate the Balfour Declaration but I think we have to mark it because I think it was a turning point in the history of that area and I think probably the most important way of marking it is to recognize Palestine.”

Jennifer Gerber, the director of Labour Friends of Israel, suggested the party’s leadership was out-of-step with public opinion.

“At a time when public support for Israel is growing, and the importance of Britain’s role in bringing about the establishment of a Jewish homeland is rightly recognized, it is a great shame that the Labour leadership had adopted this attitude towards the Balfour centenary,” she said.

“I am at a loss as to understand why Britain furthering the cause of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is not an event to celebrate,” Gerber said.