Select Page

Michael Gove’s Mea Culpa

Michael Gove’s Mea Culpa

As is often the case in this country, high-minded European politicians also never hold back from sliding to lowly levels for the sake of their political ambitions.

This is particularly noticeable when it comes to the topic of Turkey.

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz’s apparent and unstatesmanlike political vendetta against Turkey is an example.  It is not an example of great importance for Ankara, though, given that Austria is ultimately not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Many will point to Austria’s current EU presidency and Kurz’s calls for an end to EU membership talks with Ankara to contradict this view.

This, however, amounts to no more than whistling in the wind. It is ultimately meaningless because Turkey’s membership talks are not going anywhere anyway, and Ankara is perhaps much more to blame for this than Vienna.

If Turkey was on course to gain membership which is beneficial to itself and to Europe, the cultural hang-ups of Kurtz, and those like him, would count for little given that Austria is hardly a country that calls the shots.

What is important for Ankara, however, is the unstatesmanlike behavior of politicians from European countries that do matter. Britain is a case in point.

Many would have read about the “mea culpa” of Conservative minister Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

As a keen supporter of Brexit, Gove was in the frontline of those working hard to frighten the British electorate with the “Turkish scarecrow.”

He argued at the time that if Britain did not leave the EU it would face a flood of Turkish immigrants once Turkey became a member of the Union. This, he said, would not only lead to the collapse of Britain’s National Health Service, but also pose a security risk for the country.

This was a cheap shot for reasons that are too many to go into here. Nevertheless it contributed, among other things, to Islamophobia in his own country, which has to be extremely careful on this score due to its multi-religious population.

Britain, to its credit, is one of the few countries in Europe that can be pointed to as a relative success story with regard to multi-culturalism. No doubt because he is aware of this, Gove now regrets having contributed to the negative manner in which Turkey was used during the Brexit campaign.

Asked by Tom Baldwin – a former communications director for former Labor leader Ed Miliband – in his book “Ctrl Alt Delete” whether he was pleased about “some very low” statements he made in the past about Turkish immigration, this is what Gove had to say:

“I know what you mean, yes. If it had been left entirely to me the leave campaign would have a slightly different feel. I would have to go back and look at everything I said and think whether that was the right response at the right time. There is a sense at the back of my mind that we didn’t get everything absolutely right. It’s a difficult one.”

Thomas Jefferson said “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”  So we have to credit Gove for at least being honest, especially since he is still in office.

His remark show that he still has a sense of the big picture, and perhaps implies a realization that Turkey is ultimately an important country that should not have been offended.

That is more that can be said for the young Kurz.

About The Author

Semih Idiz

Started journalism career in Economic Press Agency in Ankara, and later worked in the Anatolian News Agency, Cumhuriyet daily, Turkish Daily News, NTV news channel, daily Star, daily Aksam, CNN Turk, and daily Milliyet. Currently writes for Al Monitor and Hurriyet Daily News. He has had articles, commentary and analyses published in the Financial Times, the Times, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy. He has also been a frequent contributor to local news channels as well as to BBC World, CNN, VOA, NPR, Radio New Zealand, Deutche Welle, various Israeli media organizations, Al Jazeera etc. as a foreign policy expert.