The real danger is TRexit, not Brexit

The real danger is TRexit, not Brexit

On June 23, the United Kingdom will vote to determine its future in the European Union. Whether the U.K. stays in the EU or leaves is a matter that concerns not only the future of the EU, but also that of Great Britain itself. 

Scotland does not want to leave the EU and will vote to stay in. But what if the general public of the U.K. votes out? This will oblige the Scots to revisit their relations with the U.K. and will most probably lead to a second referendum on their union within Great Britain. This time, contrary to what happened in 2014, there is a strong feeling that the Scots will vote “out” of the U.K. to stay in the EU. Ergo for this reason the U.K. should not endanger its own unity by voting out of the EU.

This is not entirely a British problem. Surprisingly, the “out” campaigners use Turkey’s prospects of becoming a member of the EU in the distant future as a pretext to vote themselves out of the EU. Their argument is falsely based on the assumption that once Turkey becomes a member, the U.K. will be invaded by Turks! What is more surprising is the counterargument of the “in” campaigners, suggesting that Turkey would never become a member of the EU, not until the year 3000, as was sarcastically pronounced by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. So, the British referendum is now Turkey’s problem too. 

None could have foreseen that Turkey would become so instrumental in the U.K.’s Brexit campaign...

Cameron, while on an official visit to Turkey in 2010, had made an eloquent speech defending and supporting Turkey’s aspiration to become a part of the European Union and had even volunteered to become the “strongest advocate” for Turkish membership in it. Notwithstanding the fact that 2.5 million British citizens used to visit Turkey every year as tourists and also the fact that Britons rank at the very top in terms of foreign real estate owners in Turkey, the United Kingdom appears to have revised its policy towards Turkey’s EU membership. What happened?

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne explained what happened: “Turkey has gone backwards. There are concerns about democracy and human rights there. British government policy is that it should not join the European Union today.” 

This is a perception which depreciates Turkey’s relations as well as its prospects for integration with Europe. Unfortunately, such a perception is mostly due to Turkey’s own failures.

Turkey’s foreign policy is ailing. Once considered to be an important and honest broker not only in its immediate neighborhood but also in various geographies from the Balkans to Central Asia and from Palestine to the Horn of Africa, Turkey is now considered to be a country with a significant lack of impartiality in its foreign policy conduct. Turkey’s impasse in the Syrian quagmire is impressive; it cannot have any dialogue at all with Damascus, it cannot cooperate with Iran, it is at odds with Russia and it has an ever growing rift with the U.S. due to a difference of opinion over the “in theater” ally combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

Turkey’s deal with the European Union on Syrian refugees is stumbling. It is  obvious that visa-free travel for Turkish citizens will not be launched at the end of June. One of the few remaining obstacles is the EU expectation for amendments in Turkey’s anti-terror law, a requirement for the EU to consider the accomplishment of all 72 criteria in order to implement the deal. Turkey refuses to address the issue.

Turkey’s domestic politics is shattering. The fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Southeast Anatolia has wiped many settlements off the map. Some 500,000 people are believed to be displaced. Turkey has obviously opted for the “military option” to deal with its longstanding Kurdish problem, an option which has not only devastated the country but also increased the polarization within society to an unprecedented level. The lifting of immunities of parliamentarians in the Grand National Assembly only adds insult to injury.

There is growing concern both in the international community and within Turkey’s civil society that human rights and freedoms are seriously challenged by creeping authoritarianism, a danger which intends to demolish the democratic pluralistic thread of society.

The United Kingdom had always been an ardent and loyal supporter of Turkey in its Western vocation. Turkey would enrich the multicultural structures within the EU, a characteristic of democratic societies which has been the experience of the U.K. itself for many centuries. Turkey will lose a valuable ally if the U.K. falls out of the EU after the referendum on June 23.

Today, the United Kingdom is on the brink of a new future. No matter what the outcome of the referendum is, whether the U.K. remains in the EU or leaves, it will become a litmus test and definitely have an impact on the EU’s revision of its own structures. There are already many other members who wish to go through a similar referendum. This will force the EU to redefine itself. 

Under the circumstances, Turkey does not promise to be an attractive asset. Turkey’s perception in the EU as a liability is on the rise. This enhances the prospect for Turkey to be left out of the union even before it gets in. History may refer to this process as TRexit.