President Tayip Erdogan keeps provoking the European Union, but the United Kingdom seems to have a friendlier approach towards one of its oldest allies in the region. “Turkey is and will be an indispensable partner for the UK, after Brexit. I was in favour of Brexit because I wanted Britain to widen its horizons and strengthen the links with friends such as Turkey. That’s what I call a ‘global Britain’” Boris Johnson said in an interview for the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet.
The British foreign minister attended the 6th Turkish-British Tatlidil Forum in Antalya, Turkey. The purpose of the meeting is to bring together leading figures from business, media and politics and to strengthen relations between the UK and Turkey. The Turkish president Tayip Erdogan and several high-ranking government officials attended the forum, while Jack Straw, Tony Blair’s former foreign secretary served as a chairman.
Asked by Hurriyet’s journalists about his opinion of the strained relationship between the European Union and Turkey Johnson commented that “it’s in everybody’s interest for Turkey and the EU to have a strong relationship. We would discourage any rhetoric that could damage the EU-Turkey relationship.” Unfortunately for Johnson, president Erdogan kept using his hateful rhetoric against the Europeans in the Tatlidil forum. “Europe is increasingly turning into a playground of racist and fascist parties. These parties dominate the European politics. And some politicians are favouring them, just to get some extra votes. Racism cannot be aligned with democracy” Erdogan told the forum audience.
When asked of his opinion on Turkey’s referendum over constitutional reforms, staged under a military law that was imposed after the failed coup of 15th July. Johnson described the failed coup attempt as a shocking attack against democracy and urged the Turkish government to maintain the rule of law and uphold its international human rights obligations. It should be noted that, after the 15th July coup attempt, the Turkish government reacted with an ongoing series of purges which has resulted in over 145,000 people to be arrested, detained or dismissed from their jobs. Analysts support the opinion that the purge reflects the power struggle between the secularist and Islamist political elites of the country.
Johnson said that he sees the will of Turkey’s officials to invite the OSCE to monitor the procedures of the referendum, which will be held in 16th April, as a positive move. The referendum is expected to include the introduction of an executive presidency, which will replace the existing parliamentary system. The British foreign minister neglected to comment on the information about Turkish citizens having their passports rescinded when they visited an embassy or a consulate in Europe.
Erdogan highlighted his good relationship with the UK’s prime minister Theresa May, who visited Turkey some months ago, to discuss business and security issues. Erdogan and May have agreed to increase the trade volume from $17bn to $20bn in the shortest time possible. The two countries will focus their attention on enforcing their bilateral economic relationship following Brexit. Erdogan, in front of an audience of businessmen in the Tatlidil forum, stated that “invest in Turkey and benefit from the opportunities that we offer you as a country. Those who have invested in Turkey have never regretted it.”
For the matter of the travel restrictions that the UK announced a week ago, which affects tourists and businessmen coming from Istanbul, Johnson told the Hurriyet that security must come first. “This is not a measure targeting Turkey, or one based in commercial interest. British airliners will be also affected. This is about protecting people” Johnson said.