Turkey will lose a friend in EU after Brexit: Former UK minister MacShane
Zeynep Bilgehan – ISTANBUL
“If Britain is out of the European Union, then Turkey will lose its best friend in Europe,” said MacShane, whose “Brexit, No Exit: Why in the End Britain Won’t Leave Europe” was published last month.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Relations Forum in Istanbul on Nov. 1, Macshane, who served in the Labour government as Minister of State for Europe from 2002 until 2005, referred to the early 2000s, when Turkey renewed its EU accession bid after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power.
“I was with Tony Blair and Mr. Erdoğan when they started urging the rest of the EU to allow accession talks to begin,” said MacShane.
“I remember going through the corridors of Brussels with Mr. Erdoğan and a very enthusiastic Tony Blair, knocking on Chancellor [Gerhard] Shröder and President [Jacques] Chirac’s door saying ‘Come on, let’s at least start talks with Turkey,’” he added.
MacShane suggested that “if Brexit happens in the full sense,” Britain will end up having a similar relationship to the European Union that Turkey has today.
“In other words, limited economic access but no political influence. It is a huge paradox that these two great countries, Turkey and Britain, both with a proud imperial history, are now detached from Europe,” he said.
MacShane also stressed that the “geopolitical and economic impact” of the Brexit process must not be underestimated.
“I am not sure people in Turkey, with all the internal problems and regional problems to worry about, understand the historic difficulty of Brexit,” he said.
Despite many political difficulties with Europe, Turkey still has a fairly healthy economic relationship with the continent, MacShane said.
“There are millions of Turkish citizens in Germany and other countries, including in the U.K. One of the key demands of the anti-Europeans is to shut down immigration to Britain. During the Brexit campaign last year a leaflet was put into every household in England saying if we stay in Europe 75 million Turks will arrive in London tomorrow. That campaign was very anti-Turkish, very anti-immigrant,” he added.
Meanwhile, commenting on the “invasion of Iraq,” one of the major criticisms of Blair in international relations, MacShane said it was a “total disaster.”
“I now think that about all the military interventions in majority Muslim countries. This includes the Soviets going into Afghanistan, the Americans and Brits going into Iraq, the Brits and French going into Libya, and everybody going into Syria including Turkey,” MacShane said.
“There are many nasty dictatorships around the world. But when you destroy a state nothing comes in its space. You have no law, no police, no economy, no justice, no schools ... Iraq was a huge mistake. I was particularly convinced that weapons of mass destruction existed, as the U.N. investigator could never tell us that there wasn’t. Not a single diplomat I worked with ever said to me privately ‘Mr. Minister, this isn’t going to work’ … No one raised an eyebrow, not a single general. It was a historic mistake,” he added.