Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will arrive in London on Sunday for a three-day visit where he aims to bolster ties between Turkey and the UK. It will be his first visit to Britain since being elected Turkish president in 2014. He is scheduled to meet the Queen and will see Theresa May, the prime minister, on Tuesday.
Talking to the Anadolu Agency yesterday, British ambassador to Turkey Dominick Chilcott said the visit “will be a sign of the strength of our relations.”
“It is a great honour to have him and to be able to host him in our capital city. He has important meetings […] he is going to be seeing the prime minister of [the U.K.],” Chilcott said, adding that Queen Elizabeth II would also be among the audience.
On the agenda will be growing bi-lateral trade, of greater significance for Britain with its forthcoming exit from the European Union. Last January, Theresa May secured a multi-million pound defence deal to build a new generation of Turkish fighter jets. The contract – worth £100m to the British economy – involves collaboration between BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries.
The British ambassador said tourism, and increasing the two countries’ cooperation in other fields, such as in the fight against terrorism, illegal migration and stopping organised crime would also feature on the agenda.
President Erdoğan’s visit comes as he bids for a second term in office. On 24 June, Turks will go to the polls to elect a new president and a new Parliament. The campaign is being held under State of Emergency conditions, in place since 2016, which limits public assembly and freedom of expression.
One of the presidential candidates, Selahattin Demirtaş, the former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is being forced to campaign behind bars. He has been held in detention for the past 18 months on charges of terrorism and insulting the president. Thousands of others are also being held in the post-coup period.
Britain has continued to support its long-term NATO ally through its recent tumultuous past. The British government was the first to recognise the attempted coup that occurred on 15 July 2016, and in a show of solidarity Minister of Europe Alan Duncan visited Turkey just days after.
Amnesty calls on UK to keep human rights in Turkey a priority ahead of presidential visithttps://t.co/SC1dSOtqzG
— News From Amnesty (@NewsFromAmnesty) May 10, 2018
However, the visit has also drawn criticism. Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas accused Theresa May of being “increasingly willing to cosy up to repressive leaders from across the world”. Since the Brexit vote, the British leader has hosted the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while American President Donald Trump is due to make a visit in June.
Various Turkish and Kurdish community groups, backed by political commentators such as Owen Jones, have condemned the visit and are planning a huge protest to greet President Erdoğan outside Downing Street on 15 May. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty have called on the British government to show ‘human rights and a thriving civil society in Turkey are a priority for the UK’.
Responding to the news reports that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit the UK, Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said on Thursday:
“This visit is an opportunity for Theresa May to show the President that human rights and a thriving civil society in Turkey are a priority for the UK.
“Under the cloak of a state of emergency, the Turkish authorities have deliberately set about dismantling civil society, locking up human rights defenders, shutting down organisations and creating a suffocating climate of fear.
“Turkey must lift the current state of emergency and other such draconian measures before there is no independent, critical civil society left. This should include the release of human rights defenders, including our Amnesty colleague Taner Kılıç, who has been held for almost a year without a shred of evidence.”
Main photo above: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 (Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP).