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Why Boris Johnson won't say 'I got it wrong'

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard and daughter.

Richard Ratcliffe's anger and disappointment with Boris Johnson for that gaffe may seem at odds with his public statement that Johnson should not resign as foreign secretary. But in fact he is being ruthlessly logical.

On the one hand he remains horrified that Johnson falsely told MPs that his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been providing journalism training to Iranians when she was arrested in the spring of 2016 - since the Iranian authorities are exploiting Johnson's words to justify both her imprisonment and the frightening possibility that her sentence may be increased by five years.

But Richard Ratcliffe shrewdly understands that Johnson is now the politician with most to lose if his wife is not let out within months and if her already poor health deteriorates further - and so he is confident Johnson will now work tirelessly to secure her release.

And in the Commons this afternoon Richard Ratcliffe's judgement was shown pretty sound: Johnson informed MPs he will be travelling to Iran, to put pressure on the government there to release his spouse.

Johnson also said for the first time without a hint of qualification - and in contrast to what his colleague Michael Gove stated on Sunday - that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was definitively in Iran "on holiday".

Boris Johnson is under pressure to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Credit: PA

But strikingly he has only apologised for the "impression" he may have given that she was engaged in activities that would be seen by the Iran authorities as sowing dissent. He did not say sorry for making what seems a clear mistake, and in response to a question from Yvette Cooper he refused to say very simply: "I got it wrong."

That distinction matters, because the Foreign Office will be concerned that the Ratcliffe family might feel obliged one day to sue Johnson and his officials.

What seems clear is that Johnson has recognised, under pressure from Richard Ratcliffe, the urgency of securing the release of his ailing wife before Christmas.

If Johnson fails, that may well represent the greatest failure of his volatile career. And it is not clear he could keep his job if the outcome were so disastrous.