Turkey to remain an indispensable partner after Brexit: UK Foreign Minister Johnson

Turkey to remain an indispensable partner after Brexit: UK Foreign Minister Johnson

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
Turkey to remain an indispensable partner after Brexit: UK Foreign Minister Johnson British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said Turkey will continue to be an indispensable partner for the U.K. in the post-Brexit era, while expressing hope that Turkey and European countries will swiftly resolve difficulties in their relations.  

Johnson, in an exclusive interview with the Hürriyet Daily News on the occasion of the 6th meeting of the Turkey-U.K. “Tatlıdil” Forum, spoke about the U.K.’s relationship with Turkey as well as the latter’s recent tension with key European countries and the EU. He also emphasized that recent measures imposed on flights from Turkey to the U.K. do not single out Turkish airline companies but also affect British ones, stressing that the measures are security-based and intended to protect passengers. 

Your visit to Turkey comes only days before the U.K. triggers Article 50 to start the Brexit process. What is your vision for the Turkey-U.K. bilateral relationship in the post-Brexit era? What are the opportunities and challenges ahead? 

One of the reasons why I was in favor of leaving the European Union is that I wanted Britain to widen the horizons of our foreign policy and strengthen our links with friends across the world, including Turkey. That’s the essence of what I call “Global Britain”: We will be more active and engaged than ever before. Turkey will continue to be an indispensable partner for the U.K. You are on the frontline of some of the most serious challenges we face. 

The importance we attach to Turkey is shown by Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit earlier this year. She signed an agreement on developing Turkey’s new TFX jet fighter and launched a new U.K.-Turkey trade working group. She also established a strategic security partnership and a program of shared training and information exchange on aviation security. All this demonstrates the strength of our partnership.

Turkey’s relationship with continental Europe has been severely strained in recent weeks. How does the U.K. follow all these discussions and foresee Turkey-EU process in future?

My message is that I hope all involved will swiftly resolve these difficulties. It’s in everybody’s interests for Turkey and the EU to have a strong partnership. We would discourage any rhetoric that could damage the EU-Turkey relationship. 

‘A fair and transparent referendum’

Turkey will soon vote in a referendum on a number of constitutional amendments shifting the country to an executive presidency. It is being criticized for holding the referendum under the state of emergency rules that caused arrests and purges of civil servants for alleged links with the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.  What is the U.K.’s position?  

The United Kingdom has been very clear that the events of July 15, 2016 [failed coup attempt] were a shocking and violent attack on Turkish democracy. We oppose any attempt to seize power through illegal, non-democratic and violent means. At the same time, it is important for Turkey to maintain the rule of law and uphold its international human rights obligations. Constitutional reform is of course a matter for the Turkish people. We think it’s important for the process to be conducted in a fair and transparent fashion. I’m encouraged that Turkey has invited the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to observe the referendum on April 16 to demonstrate that the result reflects the will of the Turkish people. 

The unrest in Syria and the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region have led to dramatic consequences, with no hope for an immediate return to normalcy and stability. How does the U.K. see the future of the region?

First of all, I want to recognize Turkey’s enormous contribution towards our collective response to the terrible crisis in Syria. As you say, the conflict has had a massive impact in the region – Turkey has shown tremendous generosity in hosting more than three million refugees. Your soldiers are fighting Daesh [ISIL] directly through the Euphrates Shield Operation and your diplomats helped negotiate a ceasefire through the Astana process.

The U.K. is also playing its part. We have pledged more than £2.3 billion in humanitarian and stabilization assistance to the people of Syria, making us the second-biggest bilateral donor. But the most important goal is a political solution to the Syrian conflict. We must end the war and ensure the people of Syria can live in peace. The future governance of Syria should be decided by Syrians through this political process. Like Turkey, we strongly support the territorial integrity of both Syria and Iraq.

‘UK as Turkey’s essential counter-terror partner’ 

Turkey and the UK are partners in the anti-ISIL coalition. With the operation to advance on Mosul, all eyes have turned to Raqqa although there is still no clear plan for liberating the city. What is your assessment of the situation and position on Syrian Kurdish groups’ involvement? 

Turkey is a vital ally in the fight against Daesh. Daesh has been forced onto the defensive, losing territory in Syria and Iraq and seeing its terrorist ideology discredited across the region. As you say, the fight against Daesh is progressing well in Mosul. Liberating Raqqa from Daesh will be the next objective. But this will not be the end of our efforts to defeat the terrorist threat. Turkey will continue to be an essential counter-terrorism partner. And our close co-operation includes extensive British efforts to tackle the threat from [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK terrorism.

‘Astana process not to replace Geneva’

How does the U.K. regard the three-way mechanism between Turkey, Russia and Iran for the continued ceasefire in Syria, as well as the Astana process as complimentary to the Geneva peace talks? 

We applaud Turkey’s diplomatic efforts, which saved lives in Syria amid horrendous fighting - although sadly, al-Assad regime forces continue to breach the ceasefire. I do not think – and I understand from my Turkish colleagues that they do not either – that Astana should or will replace the Geneva process. Rather, Astana is playing a useful supporting role, and enabling negotiations in Geneva to focus on a political solution to the war in Syria.

‘Measures not targeting Turkey or airline companies’ 

What about the recent ban on in-cabin electronic devices on flights from Turkey to the U.K.? Many in Turkey believe that it targets Turkish Airlines’ global competitiveness. How do you assess it and how can this problem be resolved?

We recently introduced additional aviation security measures on flights from a number of countries, including Turkey, which will restrict the carrying of some electronic devices on planes. Of course these measures may cause some disruptions and delays to passengers’ travel, but ultimately we have to put security first. This is not a measure targeting Turkey, or one based on commercial interest. British airlines will also be affected by these rules. We are not stopping flights to the countries affected or advising people to not visit. This is about protecting people and applies only to flights coming to the U.K. We will of course continue to keep these measures under review.