After a three-week hunger strike on Whitehall, Richard Ratcliffe – “muscles wasting, body creaking” – is ravaged by something worse than hunger, says Clare Foges in The Times. “Hopelessness.” His wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been locked up in Iran for five and a half years, and Ratcliffe is now on his fifth foreign secretary: he’s familiar with the ministerial “fudge” that promises much, but delivers nothing. It’s time Boris Johnson cut the “Gordian knot” by repaying the £400m Britain owes to Iran, a precondition of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. The government denies the two issues are linked, but days after a High Court hearing on the non-repayment of the debt was “postponed for the 11th time” in April, she was sentenced to a new jail term.
This isn’t a ransom, it’s a straightforward debt. In 1971 Britain sold 1,500 tanks to Iran, which paid £400m up front. When the Shah was toppled eight years later, the UK refused to deliver and kept the cash. Some grumble that paying up might fall foul of international sanctions, but as former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt points out, there are ways around it – “£400m worth of medicines or something”. At a sticky moment for his premiership, Johnson has a “golden opportunity” to redeem himself. He should do the honourable thing, pay the debt and get Nazanin home.