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The Times is Aboard the Erdogan Train

The Times is Aboard the Erdogan Train

The Times newspaper of London has dedicated its leading article today to President Erdogan’s visit to the UK. The article primarily concerns the trade relationship between Turkey and the UK, and is advocating closer business ties with the Turkish president and his team.

The article mentions the British objections over Erdogan’s oppressive politics, but insists that should not be an obstacle in establishing new and improved trade relations, particularly when considering Britain’s need for new economic alliances following Brexit. The Times also claims that the coveted political position of Turkey’s bolstered presidency is within Erdogan’s reach.

The complete article is as follows:

Demonstrators are dogging President Erdogan on his passage through political London, a reminder that the supposed strongman of Turkey is open to broad criticism. Jailed journalists, a rolling purge of civil servants, the dismissal of thousands of judges and academics: all this continues to cause tensions at home and should prompt concern abroad.

The government has not made public its reservations about Turkish human rights abuses during the president’s three-day visit so far but is expected to do so in private. This exercise of discretion does not amount to bending its knee to Mr Erdogan. Nor does it reflect an act of pre-Brexit desperation as Britain struggles to retain trading partners. Rather, it is a recognition of two important facts in the unfolding relationship with Turkey.

The first is that Turkey should be kept on board as a committed rather than a wavering Nato ally. Britain, ready to deploy forces and earmarking a significant chunk of its gross domestic product to defence, is still regarded as a linchpin of the European wing of the alliance. It is therefore right to co-operate where possible with Ankara. The future of Nato may depend on it. Turkey has the second largest standing army in the alliance and boasts modern firepower. Its muscle in the Middle East, if judiciously applied, can contribute to the stability of the region.

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Second, it should be acknowledged that Mr Erdogan is not an autocrat in the manner of President Putin of Russia. Next month’s general and presidential elections could introduce some checks on his power and provide a platform for candid criticism. Polling suggests the opposition parties, if their alliance holds, could win 40 per cent of the vote. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, which is running separately, could muster the 10 per cent needed to win seats in parliament. Together that could cost Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party its majority.

Mr Erdogan seems certain to be re-elected as president but the creation of a parliamentary majority capable of venting popular disgruntlement will make for better, more accountable governance. This hope, and the knowledge that many parliamentarians are still free-thinkers, should be reason enough not to make a pariah out of Turkey. In addition, the president has become vulnerable because of the state of the Turkish economy, weakened by a slump in the value of the Turkish lira and a rising inflation rate of 10.9 per cent.

Turkey, then, is seeking a stronger axis with Britain out of self-interest. A country far away from gaining European Union membership, despite the Leave campaign’s absurd claims of an imminent invasion by 80 million Turks across the EU’s open borders, is seeking a closer relationship with a country preparing to exit the union.

That may not be a marriage made in heaven, but it could form the basis of a dynamic partnership that is trusting enough to accept mutual criticism. Turkey says it wants to expand the volume of trade with Britain to £15 billion. It seeks British help in the development of a Turkish fighter jet. At a time when Turkey, frustrated by what it regards as the hostility or indifference of the West, is turning to Moscow for arms supplies, this offer of engagement should be seized.

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Entering into deals with autocrats is not always good policy. Finding some common ground with Turkey, however, makes sense in troubled times. Britain does not share Mr Erdogan’s contempt for the United States, voiced in a speech yesterday. Nor does it approve of his ruthless treatment of Kurds and dissidents. Mr Erdogan has nonetheless made Britain a rational offer: for the sake of the western alliance and for mutual prosperity, the two countries need to find more productive ways of working together.

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