Richard Ratcliffe has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “deliver on his promises” as he was joined by two celebrity supporters during his hunger strike outside the Foreign Office.
Strictly Come Dancing co-host Claudia Winkleman and writer and presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell again visited Mr Ratcliffe on the 16th day of his protest in central London.
Mr Ratcliffe called on Mr Johnson to meet an Iranian delegate at the Cop26 climate conference to demand the freedom of Britons detained in Evin prison – including his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is detained over allegations, which she denies, of plotting to overthrow the Tehran government, having been arrested in 2016 during a holiday visit to show her baby daughter Gabriella to her parents.
Mr Ratcliffe says his wife, with whom he shares a daughter, Gabriella, is being held “hostage” due to the UK owing a £400 million debt to Iran over a failure to deliver Chieftain tanks ordered by the Shah of Iran before he was overthrown in 1979. An international arbitration process in 2008 ruled that the UK owes Iran the debt.
Mr Ratcliffe told the PA news agency that the Prime Minister needs to “deliver on his promises” to repay the debt and protect his wife. He is demanding Mr Johnson speaks to the Iranian delegate during the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
He said: “The Iranian delegate needs to be asked about it. He (the Prime Minister) promised to settle a debt and he hasn’t, and now my wife is being held hostage. He needs to deliver on that promise.
“He needs to take responsibility for that and the consequences of his failings. I think if he does that, she will be protected.”
Mr Ratcliffe, who has previously completed a 15-day hunger strike, says he is “now in uncharted territory” and is seeing the physical effects of 16 days without food, including experiencing cold hands and feet.
He said: “It’s definitely getting harder. My family are worried about how long it will go on for.”
Mr Ratcliffe says he is watching for various physical symptoms that are to be expected the longer a hunger strike goes on for, including becoming dazed and dizzy, losing weight and his skin turning yellow.
He said: “It hasn’t happened yet but I’ve kept warm enough. I’m taking it almost day-by-day.
“The last time I did 15 days and it took some recovery. Now I’m into uncharted territory. It is the first time I know what day 16 feels like. I don’t know how I will feel the next day, or day 17 or 21 or 33. It’s a balance between wanting a response from the Government and not putting my family under too much pressure the longer it goes on.”
Mr Ratcliffe said the response from members of the public who have visited him and written him letters has been overwhelming.
A pile of letters addressed to “Richard Ratcliffe, outside the Foreign Office” sits next to him alongside a number of tents and signs saying “Free Nazanin”.
He said: “People send lots of support and it shows so much kindness. People often get wrapped up in the world and complaining about the Government and whatever and it’s really extraordinary how kind people can be.
“It gives you faith in human kindness.”
Visiting him on Wednesday, Coren Mitchell, who also visited him on Monday at the scene of his protest, said: “An accountant from Hampshire is starving himself on the steps of the Foreign Office, for goodness’ sake! We can’t just ignore that like it’s ‘one of those things’.
“Someone in the current Government could be the one to bring Nazanin back while Gabriella still has a childhood. Nazanin is a totally innocent woman who needs to come home to her family. Their ongoing torment is a major failure of British diplomacy in its core responsibility: To protect its citizens.
“It’s day 16, he is so cold and exhausted and starving, as a friend I want him to go home. But as a person I understand why he isn’t. My family is everything to me too. If, God forbid, we were torn apart like this I would be equally desperate and urgent to do something to help.
“It’s getting into dangerous territory now, his body will be damaged and I’m just praying he will be able to go home and someone powerful will say: ‘It’s OK. We’re on it. We’ll take it from here’.”