Britain’s relations with Turkey after Brexit

Sunday 02/04/2017

As Brexit finally gets under way, it is time for the United Kingdom to make equal haste with rejuvenating its diplomatic and trade ties in the world, beginning with Turkey.

The potential of British ties with Turkey has been smothered for years by the sweaty, asphyxiating blanket of EU accession talks with Ankara. No one in their right mind, on either side of the Bosporus, be­lieved in earnest that Turkey would join the European Union in their lifetime but the prospect of mem­bership was avidly promoted and kept alive for years, tethering the relationship to the rigid and clumsy structures of accession talks.

Ironically, Britain was among the great champions of Turkish ac­cession. While this was politically astute for the United Kingdom at the time, it is proving a calamitous strategy for the European Union.

Relations between Berlin and Ankara have all but collapsed. We have seen clashes between riot police and the Turkish diaspora on the streets of European cities. The severe and alarming political instability in Turkey, provoked by deadly terrorist organisations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Islamic State and the so-called Gulenist Terror Organisation, can­not be understood without looking at from Europe’s badly failing diplomacy.

As a Briton of Eastern European descent, I can tell you a thing or two about how mind-numbingly bureaucratic EU accession talks are. Sliced into dozens of negotia­tion chapters, they diminish the subtlety of foreign diplomacy to the domestic policy minutiae of the acquis — the European Union’s 170,000-page rule book.

They whip up false hope on one side, while spurring xenophobic sentiment on the other. They sow the seeds of popular disillusion­ment and frustration. At some point the chickens inevitably come home to roost. Unfortunately for Turkey and the European Union that time seems to be now.

Brexit frees us from the mill­stone of EU intrusion in our own domestic affairs. Among its many boons is that it casts aside the sickly Brussels blanket that has stifled the best of our diplomatic traditions. We should now shred this blanket, set it on fire, throw it out of the window and take a deep gulp of fresh air.

Brexit is simple. It merely means recognising the truth: We are a free and sovereign nation, not merging with our partners, but constructively seeking to advance and balance our enduring interests through trade and cooperation with other sovereign nations. So is Turkey.

As an ally, Turkey is of the great­est strategic importance for Britain and, though they seem tragically unable to grasp it, for Europeans, too.

By virtue of its geography alone, Turkey’s significance is only going to increase with the years.

The world’s hotbed of war, terror and sectarianism, which has generated a massive displacement of people to Europe, lies right on Turkey’s doorstep. As the ever-strategically minded Russians appear to have realised some time before us, in working with Turkey, a zone of comparative stability, lies the one and best hope of getting a handle on the violent convulsions that are ripping through the Middle East.

The United Kingdom has no choice but to raise and object to grave violations of the rule of law and the rights of individuals in Turkey, as elsewhere in the world. This remains inherent in who we are and it makes diplomacy into what it is: A delicate balancing act.

Yes, the danger of democracy unravelling in Turkey should cause genuine concern but so should the collapse of diplomatic ties with Turkey, warts and all, and the country’s nascent reorientation towards Moscow and non-Western groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

The United Kingdom should never permit its relations to suffer in the way that Turkish-German re­lations are. From the strategic and security perspective, this would be — and in Europe’s case already is — a catastrophe.

Free from all EU baggage, we in the United Kingdom have a chance to recover the diplomatic balance in our relations with the Turks that our European partners are sorely lacking.

As the Westminster attacks sadly demonstrate, terror won’t spare us. It strikes at us all, and it can only be defeated in close cooperation with other countries, not least of all Turkey.