The husband of detained British-Iranian aid worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has denounced the prime minister for showing a “real lack of leadership” in the fight to get his wife home, accusing Boris Johnson’s government of “unconscionable” inaction.

Richard Ratcliffe is on day 10 of a hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) – the second he has carried out in just two years, with the previous one in 2019 lasting for more than two weeks.

Speaking to The Independent at his camp, Mr Ratcliffe said his family is “angry” at the lack of progress ministers have made since his wife’s detention in Iran in 2016, on jumped up espionage charges, and that the “idea the government has sat around for five-and-a-half years, not solving our case, is unconscionable”.

Mr Ratcliffe, along with his MP, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, met with foreign secretary Liz Truss last week to discuss what is being done to move proceedings along. The meeting “didn’t feel very persuasive,” he said, adding he does not blame Ms Truss, who has “only been in the post a few weeks”, but that he wants a “better response from government”.

“Let’s be honest, we are a prime ministerial issue,” he continued, “but the last time I met with [Mr] Johnson was January – that’s not good enough. He promised he’d fix this and he hasn’t.”

The Ratcliffe family’s relationship with the prime minister is complicated. Mr Johnson and Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe exchanged a number of letters while the latter was imprisoned – she even knitted Wilfred, the prime minister’s son with wife Carrie, a “little woolly hat” when he was born in April last year, Mr Ratcliffe told The Independent.

He continued: “And the prime minister wrote her a lovely card, saying ‘thank you’ and how much he appreciated it – so the human side is there, but there’s a disconnect between that human sympathy and the policy to take her out the situation she’s in.”

Back in 2017, when Mr Johnson was the foreign secretary, the government said it would pay back at least some of an outstanding debt the UK owes Iran, which it has been suggested was one of the reasons Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was seized and later imprisoned on a trip she took to her home country with her and Mr Ratcliffe’s daughter, Gabriella.

The sum is over a cancelled arms deal between Britain and Iran, from the 1970s, and amounts to more than £400m.

Mr Ratcliffe said Ms Truss “didn’t answer” questions he and his lawyers put to her about the unpaid debt.

Ratcliffe’s camp is pictured, with signs in front of his tent explaining what his demands are for the PM

(The Independent/Sam Hancock)

However, again turning to the prime minister, he said Mr Johnson “promised to pay this money back in 2017 – and yet, here we are, in 2021 and Nazanin is still there and the debt remains outstanding”.

“There are consequences for Boris Johnson’s unkept promises,” he told The Independent sternly, “and what I don’t think he and his ministers realise is that their failings in Nazanin’s case have consequences for all of us.”

Mr Ratcliffe went on to suggest the government was risking “the credibility of the UK’s ability to protect” its own people. “Where’s the government’s moral compass?” he asked. “It’s almost like citizens are expendable.”

Asked when he last spoke to his wife – who is currently out of prison but being kept at her parent’s house in Iran, awaiting to hear if she will be sent back to jail following her latest failed appeal to leave the country – Mr Ratcliffe said “this morning”.

“She’s agitated and feels helpless, being so far away,” he said. “She’s also concerned about the effects of this [hunger strike] on not just me, but on our daughter.”

Gabriella, who is now seven, visited her father and even camped out with him during her half-term break. “It was nice, we carved pumpkins and her friends came one day to kick a football around,” he said.

A collection of Free Nazanin-themed decor sits behind Ratcliffe, including the pumpkins he and daughter Gabriella carved for Halloween

(The Independent/Sam Hancock)

Asked if she understands why her father is taking such drastic action, Mr Ratcliffe said Gabriella understands “daddy is trying to get Boris Johnson to get mummy home” – and she understands that “I can’t eat and can only drink water or black coffee to do that” – but, “luckily, she’s also seven years old and doesn’t get too hung up on the details”.

Mr Ratcliffe said he intends to carry on starving himself outside the FCDO until at least “after Iran has attended Cop26”, because he would “like to disrupt that as much as possible”. The Middle Eastern nation confirmed on Monday that a delegation, headed by its environment chief, Ali Selajegheh, would attend the UN climate summit from 8 November – next Monday.

Though Mr Ratcliffe stressed he has no definitive plans to leave Whitehall – not at least until the government has “done more” to secure his wife’s release.

“At the end of the day, we as a family have to ask ‘what the f*** is the government doing?’” he said. “We’ve heard all the platitudes for far too long – and they simply don’t wash anymore.”

The FCDO has been approached for comment.

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