Erdogan, Turkey and the UK government

May 21, 2018 Europe , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS , UK

Reuters photo



Tom Arms



The name of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is toxic in most of Europe. He is banned from holding political rallies in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. The war of words between himself and Germany’s Angela Merkel has poisoned the diplomatic air between Germany and Turkey.


But between Britain and Turkey all is sweetness and light – almost.


Erdogan has recently completed a three-day visit to Britain where he was accorded the singular honour of an audience with the Queen as well as extensive talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.


At a press conference at the end of the visit, Mrs May did make a pointed reference to Erdogan’s appalling human rights record when she said: “I have underlined to President Erdogan that we want to see democratic values and international human rights obligations upheld.”


The Prime Minister’s barb was directed at the Turkish president’s decision to jail 160 journalists. Erdogan brushed it aside with the reply: “You have to make a distinction between terrorists and journalists. We are talking about … those who have been caught red-handed bearing weapons, those who have been killing people.


“Are we supposed to call them journalists just because they bear the credentials and identity cards? Currently, the Turkish judiciary is prosecuting and sentencing individuals who have been associated with terrorism and involved in terrorist actions.”


The Prime Minister’s attack on Erdogan’s human rights record was blunted by the fact that he was in Britain and being entertained at Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street when the rest of Europe are reluctant to allow him past passport control.


The reason for the relative British warmth is three-fold. First, the Brexit-bound conservative government needs all the non-EU trading partners it can get. Britain and Turkey announced during the visit that they plan to increase trade from $15 billion to $20 billion with a defence partnership at the heart of the agreement. Rolls Royce is currently bidding to co-build the engine for Turkey’s new TFX fighter jet.


Next is that Britain is looking for Middle East partners in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Erdogan may be leading secular Turkey towards a more Islamic route, but he is no friend of ISIS or Al Qaeda. Turkey has detained 6,000 Islamic Jihadists and Britain and Turkey reached an agreement on the extradition of British-born ISIS fighters back to Britain.


Finally, there are historic links between Britain and Turkey based on geopolitical facts. Britain and Turkey have had close relations going back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. British diplomats regard a strong and stable Turkey as a useful counterweight to continental Europe. This is why it retained close links with the Ottomans when the Turks were besieging Vienna; came to the Ottomans rescue during the Crimean War when it was under threat from Russia; pushed for it to join NATO and was the main voice in favour of Turkish membership of the European Union.


The British government—especially a British government about to withdraw from the world’s largest trading bloc—has to be practical. Democracy, liberty and human rights are fine things. But they play second fiddle to hard cash and geopolitics.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

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