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Day 50 – The Best of British

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

May 24, 2016 — These past two weeks have been a crash course in British politics, and I’m sorry this is now rather a long catch up with you.

The crash course has had lots of good things. On Thursday I went to Downing St with my mother and father, and Nazanin’s MP Tulip Siddiq, and boss Monique Villa, and Kamran Foroughi the son of Kamal Foroughi.

I was carrying a petition of half a million of your signatures, gathered in 10 days from people around the country, many of whom I will never get the chance to thank personally, calling on the government to do what they can for Nazanin and Gabriella.

I was proud at being able to present it, in having our family’s photos taken in front of Number 10. I was also touched by the care of those around us, from the policeman on the door shook my hand and wished me the best of luck, to the way the media gave us a chance there to raise Nazanin’s cause. Monique noted our treatment reflected something peculiarly British. And I remain hopeful of what the power of so many people caring might bring. Tulip is exploring that with David Cameron’s office.

This week I also got to meet the Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood MP, and to have our first face to face with the consular team. The Minister was gracious and promised to raise Nazanin’s case personally with the Iranian Charge d’affaires in London, which he has since done. His Foreign Office staff were sympathetic and constructive, if also cautious on the limitations of what they could do.

We also had a debate in Parliament, organised by Kamal Foroughi’s MP, Oliver Dowden. This debate was helpful and thoughtful and understated, but for me it was also a reality check.

The Minister clarified that Foreign Office support for those who carry two passports is different. It is not government policy to intervene in cases of British dual nationals, outside of exceptional circumstances. In this sense, it is not actually policy to try to ensure minimum protections for British citizens.

Nazanin was very proud of her British passport when she got it, however protected it feels now. In part because she had to work for it - I remember evenings revising for the test with all those questions on Eastenders, and the Queen, and the percentages of different communities in the last UK census, and a proud citizenship ceremony in Islington Town Hall. The photo is in her parents’ display cabinet.

Instead the parliamentary debate emphasised the need to understand this was a delicate matter since Iran does not recognise dual nationality, and to be mindful of Iran’s sensitivities. It focused on the humanitarian grounds for considering the release of both Kamal Foroughi, and Nazanin and Gabriella, and that it would be a good gesture for Iran to release them.

This was of course all said for an Iranian audience, and very diplomatic. But from where I was sitting, it all felt a bit vegetarian. News from Kerman is not that delicate.

Progress should also be set next to other things going on at present that don’t seem to have the same delicacy:

Last week Philip Hammond met his Iranian counterpart in Vienna to talk about Syria, but also to discuss banking cooperation. While we were petitioning Downing Street on Thursday, the Treasury Minister Damien Hinds was key speaker at a London conference with the Iranian Central Bank on reconnecting Iran to global banking. Also on Thursday, the UK, US, EU, Germany and France issued a joint statement to encourage European banks and businesses in Iran. Coming soon there is an imminent British trade mission to Iran being led by the Business Secretary, postponed from earlier in the month.

There has been no mention of Nazanin’s case being raised in any of these interactions. Maybe I missed it. But the accountant in me would respectfully suggest that these are the areas that have leverage. And acknowledge that Nazanin may not yet be quite the priority I’d like her to be.

Many people have asked me this week what I want from the petition to David Cameron, since its not in his gift to release Nazanin, and it is not fair to simplify.

So what I want is the obvious – I want the government to do all it can – across its full range of interactions - to bring Nazanin and Gabriella home. I want it to protect my family as a priority as British citizens.

What that means exactly, what can be done, I don’t know – but 50 days is long enough.

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