Boris wins Turkish hearts and minds

Boris wins Turkish hearts and minds

The visit by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to Ankara was bound to be one of the most difficult in his career.

I can just about imagine my acquaintances at the British embassy cringing prior to the visit, not to mention the jokes flying from room to room.

Eyes here in Turkey and the United Kingdom were on him to see how he would wheedle his way out of a very difficult situation, as he faced tough questions about the way he used Turkey as a scarecrow during his Brexit campaign. 

Basically, what he was saying then was that the EU would be admitting Turkey as a member at some stage, which would flood Britain with millions of unemployed Anatolians, who would then undercut the labor market and take away good old British jobs. 

(To his credit, he did not use the “Islamic card” then, given that his own grandfather, an Ottoman Turk, was a Muslim, and that there are millions of Muslims in Britain that he had to avoid offending.)

And then there was the much publicized “limerick” affair involving a goat. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not known to take kindly to such things. People have landed in jail in this country for lesser jibes, especially if they are rude and crude. 

How could Boris have known, though, that not long after winning the Spectator’s “Most Offensive Erdoğan Limerick Contest” he would be facing the man himself? This must be divine intervention of some sort. 
Fortunately for him, though, “Turkish hospitality” kicked in and ensured that the “honored guest” was not unduly embarrassed. Turkish journalists are also more restrained than their British counterparts in such cases. 

They also ensured that Boris did not have to run the gauntlet the way he would have in his own country, where the press was once referred to by former Prime Minister Tony Blair as “feral.” 

Maybe that is because journalists risk less in the U.K., where it is much easier to be brave. Who knows…
All this aside, though, the most fantastic aspect to Boris’ visit was the support he gave to Turkey’s EU membership bid. 

“We may be leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe and Britain will help Turkey in any way.”  A fine example this is of “British consistency” if there ever was one. “What about the millions of Anatolians, Boris?” 

But as the Turks say, “it is easy for a bachelor to divorce his wife.” What this seemingly discrepant remark is trying to say is that if don’t face any risks, then you can say what you want.

Now that he knows Britain will be leaving the EU, most likely under his guidance, it is easy for him to support Turkish membership in the union since there is no risk in this for Britain. 

Anyway, given his Turkish connection, Boris could also have used the remark of our late former President Süleyman Demirel. “That was yesterday, today is today!” Demirel once famously retorted when he was reminded that he used to say one thing, and is now saying the opposite.

Still and all, one can’t help but wonder if Boris’ remark about supporting Ankara’s membership bid has more in it than just an attempt at mollifying or succoring (please don’t read that as “suckering”) Turks. 

Europe’s fervent opponents of EU membership for Turkey used to argue that Britain only supported this to undermine a union it never believed in anyway. These people must feel now that Boris’ remark shows that Britain still harbors ill feelings towards the EU. 

All this aside though, it was nice of Boris to try and win Turkish hearts and minds by revealing that he is the “proud possessor of a beautiful, very well-functioning Turkish washing machine.”

That should lay the ground for “the jumbo free trade deal” he wants with Turkey, and which is undoubtedly important for the U.K. after Brexit. It’s reassuring to see Britain harking back to its mercantilist roots. 

It is difficult to gauge what Ankara gained from Boris’ visit. What is certain, though, is that it provided some light entertainment at a time when everything looks so gloomy in this country.