Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that "the cooperation we have with the UK is well beyond any mechanism that we’ve established with other partners" as he began a three-day visit to the country on May 13.
"I see the strategic partnership between Turkey and the UK as a necessity, rather than a simple choice, for the interests of the two countries," he told a British-Turkish forum in the city of Reading, adding that Britain was "an ally and a strategic partner, but also a real friend".
The UK has been restrained in its criticism of the human rights situation in Turkey since the ongoing state of emergency was introduced by Ankara in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016. The emergency regime, which gives Erdogan the right to rule by decree, has seen massive purges of people from all walks of life and on March 20 the United Nations human rights office said it was having a "chilling effect" on Turkish society by demonstrating that any dissent would be punished.
The state of emergency is set to stay in place during the upcoming June 24 snap presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey after which, should he be victorious, under constitutional changes Erdogan will become an executive president, while the position of prime minister will be scrapped and parliament will have a much diminished role. Britain, on the other hand, is heading into a post-Brexit era where it will badly need allies with which to build up trade and investment. It is not hard to detect a certain trade-off here: the UK remains rather quiet when it comes to what critics say is Turkey’s slide to authoritarianism while Turkey stays a reliable partner after Brexit occurs next year.
During his speech in Reading, Erdogan noted that the British government quickly condemned the anti-government attempted coup in Turkey. "We will never forget this solidarity," he remarked.
Erdogan said he wanted to increase trade and security ties between the two countries as the UK prepares for the European Union exit scheduled for March 2019. "We are ready to cooperate more with the UK... post-Brexit in every field," Erdogan said.
Given the human rights situation in Turkey, Turkey's hopes of joining the EU in the foreseeable future are nil. Its membership talks are virtually at a halt.
The UK is the second largest export market for Turkey in Europe with the total business volume at more than $16bn. The next target is increasing it to $20bn, the Turkish leader said
In investment, there are plans in the works for Turkish Aerospace Industries to develop Turkey’s own “fifth generation” fighter jet, which would rely on Rolls-Royce’s engine-building expertise.
Erdogan is set to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II on the third day of his visit. Also on his itinary were a speech at Chatham House and a meeting with British investors at Bloomberg in London.
On his way to the event in Reading, his convoy encountered a group of Kurdish protesters who tried to block its way. The protesters held up portraits of the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, YPG flags, and portraits of Erdogan labelling him a “terrorist.” They chanted: “Fascist, terrorist, thief, and murderer Erdogan.”
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