Christine Jardine introduces Bill to give British citizens right to Consular assistance

Back in November, there was not a dry eye in the house when Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe spoke to Scottish Lib Dem Conference.

From our piece at the time:

One of the most moving sessions was an interview, hosted by Christine Jardine, with Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe. Christine said she still has the blue flower Richard gave her when she went to visit him outside the Iranian Embassy when he was on hunger strike during Nazanin’s six year imprisonment in Iran.

Nazanin and Richard want British citizens to have a right to consular protection after the Foreign Office was so slow to help her. At the moment, the commitment is dependent on ministerial whim, and, if ministers are reshuffled, you have to build the relationship up all over again.

Next week, Parliament will debate a Bill tabled by Lib Dem MP Christine designed to give British citizens abroad a right to consular assistance when their human rights are under threat.

Yesterday’s Sunday Post had a feature on the Bill. Christine told the paper:

We assume that if something happens, someone will speak to the Foreign Office and you’re guaranteed assistance – but you’re not.

I think it’s something most of us would take for granted that we already have.

After Richard and I spoke about it, I thought about the number of cases where people have found themselves in that situation over the years.

I thought there needs to be something written down that says if your human rights are under threat in a foreign country, you can have consular support.

Richard Ratcliffe also spoke to the Post:

It’s something we’d been calling for even before Nazanin got home. The system, as it is now, is just unfair. If you make enough noise, you get attention.

We had five foreign secretaries and there have been a couple more since then.

Each time you need to build a new relationship and get your issue into the priority list – which just feels like a really dysfunctional way of doing things.

Imagine with the police if every time there was a change of chief inspector you had to work your way up to get them to take your murder or kidnapping seriously.

It means you end up with this untrusting relationship with the government, where you don’t know what they’re doing and there’s no accountability.

You don’t know what’s going to happen next because you’re not entitled to anything.

It is upsetting to learn that no British citizen has an automatic right to help if they get into trouble abroad rests on the whim of a government minister. Christine’s bill aims to put that right.

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