Theresa May and her Turkish counterpart have announced new trade talks between Britain and Turkey that could generate billions more pounds for their economies.
Mrs May is the first major Western leader to visit the Turkish capital following the coup attempt last summer.
During her one day visit to Ankara on Saturday 28 Jan, the British Prime Minister met with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss security, Cyprus, Syria, terrorism and a new trade deal.
Following their meeting, the Turkish President said the two countries wanted to boost their annual trade from £12.4 billion to £15.9 billion. The British Prime Minister confirmed that a new working group would be established to help facilitate the terms of a new trade agreement. It means Turkey becomes the 14th nation to enter into such talks with the UK following Brexit.
While in Ankara, Mrs May also announced a multi-million pound defence deal to build a new generation of Turkish fighter jets. The contract – worth £100m to Britain – involves collaboration between BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries.
‘Strengthen co-operation on security’
After her talks with Mr Yıldırım, Mrs May spoke of a “vital new agreement” with Turkey, which would:
“Strengthen our cooperation on security through a new strategic security partnership. This will help our 2 governments and security services to work even more closely together in important areas such as intelligence sharing, aviation security and domestic security.”
She also referred to Turkey’s ongoing battle with terrorism within its own borders, which in the last 18 months had resulted in the deaths of “over 1,500 Turkish civilians and security personnel”.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron had urged Mrs May to bring up concerns about human rights violations in Turkey
Human rights in Turkey
Many had speculated before her visit, whether the British PM would raise the issue of human rights with Ankara. In a statement issued by Tim Farron, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats party had urged her to do just that:
“As Theresa May seeks trade deals with ever-more unsavoury leaders, she ignores the simple point that the most successful countries around the world respect human rights – economies flourish in free societies.”
“There are tens of thousands of people in Turkish jails without fair trial who in many cases have committed no crime, other than daring to disagree with President Erdogan [sic]. Theresa May should address this as a priority in her meeting today.”
At a press conference with President Erdoğan, the British leader’s speech started by highlighting that “Turkey is one of the UK’s oldest friends. Our relations stretch back over 400 years.”
She then briefly touched on human rights concerns following a massive crackdown by the Turkish authorities after the failed coup of 15 July 2016. Since then, over a hundred thousand people have been sacked or suspended from their civil service jobs, among them teachers, judges, soldiers and police officers. Businesspeople have had their assets seized, media outlets have been closed, and thousands – including journalists and opposition leaders – jailed, accused of supporting terrorism.
A stony-faced Erdoğan listened as Mrs May urged the country to “maintain the rule of law” and “uphold its international human rights obligations”.
Theresa May pays respects to Turkey’s founding father Atatürk
Mrs May travelled to Turkey immediately after concluding her Washington visit where she had met with new US President Donald Trump.
Before meeting Turkish officials, she paid her respects to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic.
Visiting the Anıtkabir (Atatürk’s mausoleum), the British PM, dressed in black, laid a large red and white wreath before Ataturk’s sarcophagus and bowed her head in respect. She then wrote in the visitors’ book:
“It is a great honour to visit this special place of remembrance to the founding father of modern Turkey. Let us together renew our efforts to fulfil Ataturk’s vision of peace at home and peace in the world.”
Main photo: Turkey and Britain’s Prime Ministers Theresa May and Binali Yıldırım in Ankara, 28 Jan 17. Photo Turkish Prime Minister’s Office