There are few things in politics as wearisome as politicians handwaving away difficult trade-offs in order to strike noble poses. “I’m not going to get bogged down in [complications]”, they say. “We just need to do [good thing].”
A few months ago, I pointed out that the Government could not follow Tom Tugendhat’s lead and simply dismiss the “political auction of numbers” on the question of evacuating Afghanistan.
Now Jeremy Hunt, the former Foreign Secretary, wants the United Kingdom to pay a disguised ransom for the freedom of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, on the dubious grounds that it isn’t technically a ransom.
It is true that the £400 million figure hasn’t simply been dreamed up by Iranian hostage-takers. It is a debt which arose when the UK, quite rightly, refused to complete a defence contract negotiated with the Shah of Iran once he was overthrown and the Islamic Republic established.
But it isn’t obvious that we should give an illegitimate and hostile theocracy either tanks or hundreds of millions of pounds in cash, even if there were any guarantee that doing so would secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, which there is not.
Nor should we pretend that handing over the cash now, in these circumstances, will be taken for anything other than a ransom payment by other groups which might be tempted to kidnap British citizens. And all that is before we consider what evil the Iranian regime, which is exporting terror across the region, could do with £400 million.
These are all factors that a responsible government must weigh into their calculations – just as Hunt did when he was Foreign Secretary. They cannot simply be set aside because of one human story, however agonising.