BORIS Johnson has finally apologised to the British mother held in one of Iran’s harshest jails over his gaffe last week that could leave her facing another five years behind bars.

The Foreign Secretary is now set to meet Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband tomorrow to discuss the possibility of the 38-year-old being offered “diplomatic protection” as part of Government efforts to secure her return from Iran.

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Downing Street confirmed the Foreign Office is looking into the possible use of the status after Richard Ratcliffe spoke with Johnson by phone at the weekend.

It is thought that legal advice will have to be taken before determining whether the status – which would raise Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight from a consular case to a formal dispute between the two countries – is the best method for speeding her release.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at Tehran airport by the Revolutionary Guard, who accused her of trying to overthrow the Iranian regime. She has been in the city’s Evin prison for 19 months.

Johnson told MPs last week that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran “training journalists”. Her family and her employers say this is absolutely untrue, and that she was introducing her then 18-month-old daughter to her family. Johnson’s comment was jumped on by Iranian authorities, who said it was proof Zaghari-Ratcliffe was lying about her reasons for being in the country.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Johnson said: “I hope the House will understand with crystal clarity that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was there on holiday. She was not there in any professional capacity.

“Insofar that people got a different impression, it was my mistake, I should have been clearer ... I apologise for the distress and anguish caused to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family. Our priority now is to do everything we can to get her out of Iran on humanitarian grounds.”

On his conversation with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Johnson added: “He has requested to come to Tehran. I don’t know whether that will be possible but we will see what we can do.

“We do not normally call for the release of consular cases because very often that exacerbates their position,” Johnson went on. “But I have called for her release on humanitarian grounds.”

Johnson continued: “I do apologise, I do apologise, and of course I retract any suggestion that she was there in a professional capacity.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said there had been a week of “obfuscation and bluster”. She told the Commons: “We know, from the evidence of Richard Ratcliffe, that when Nazanin was told of the remarks and saw how the Iran-ian authorities would exploit them she became hugely distressed and upset.”

Thornberry said Johnson should “accept the impact that his words have had, accept the distress that has been caused to Nazanin and apologise properly for that – not apologise for upsetting people, apologise for getting it wrong”.

In an open letter to Johnson published in an English newspaper, Ratcliffe spelled out the toll his wife’s imprisonment is having on his family. “The Foreign Office always emphasises that Nazanin is a dual national,” he wrote. “But her life is in Britain – she has a British home, a British job, a British husband, a British child. Britain can choose to say, ‘We will protect her as though she is British’.

“The Foreign Office refuses to acknowledge that she is being held because she is British and that she faces a longer sentence because of your [Johnson’s] words – my understanding of the strange reluctance to apologise.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is having medical checks after lumps were found in her breasts, is “angry”, her husband said.

He continued: “She has lost control of her emotions because she has lost all control over her life. Now she has become even more tense and stressed because she’s seen herself on Iranian State TV. She cried over the coverage, and felt it was a violation that they used pictures from our family photo album. It is too much pressure on her. She feels on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

Ratcliffe said the couple’s daughter, Gabrielle, is also suffering, adding: “She saw her mother on TV, and knew that her grandparents, who she is living with, were distraught at the coverage.”

Ratcliffe concluded: “I don’t want to be a campaigning husband and father any longer. I want to go back to being an ordinary husband and father, with my wife and child at my side."