London (GPA) – As the United Kingdom prepares to move away from the European Union, it seems Theresa May is looking to another EU pariah state as a possible future economic partner.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May met for the first time with Turkish President Recep Erdogan in Ankara this week. The meeting ended with the signing of a $125 million defense deal between the two countries.
The defense deal would be a partnership between the British defense firm BAE Systems and a Turkish counterpart, TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries). The two companies will be working together to develop the next generation of Turkish jets in the TF-X fighter program.
May spoke of the importance of close security ties with Turkey, saying that “This relationship is central to our capacity to tackle the terrorist threat to the U.K. Turkey already does a huge amount to disrupt the threat posed to our countries by terrorists including foreign fighters leaving Syria.” May is apparently ignoring the fact that Turkey has been complicit in allowing terrorists to cross their border to prod the Syrian government and been shown to cooperate with the Islamic State in the past.
This deal is just another boost in the arms trade between Ankara and London, which has already made the U.K. $400 million since 2015 and another $60 million just since July’s failed coup.
Speaking of the coup, May also told Erdogan in their meeting that she was “proud that the UK stood with you on 15 July last year in defence of democracy,” but that “now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do.”
Erdogan might have a hard time abiding by this since he was already violating human rights laws and purging government employees years before this coup took place. Maybe May just doesn’t like the EU so much that she missed the report by the European intelligence agency IntCen that found Erdogan was preparing to purge the police, military and security services before he even had the excuse provided by the coup.
May and Erdogan also spoke of strengthening economic ties between the two countries, saying their goal was to make trade between their two countries rise from its current level of $15 billion to $20 billion. The U.K. Is the second largest recipient of Turkish products, having imported about $10.5 billion worth in 2015. Only Germany surpasses the U.K. In economic ties to the rogue NATO country.
May says the new deal is to help Britain “prepare the ground for our post-Brexit trading relationship,” and let reporters know that “Britain is a great, global, trading nation and that we are open for business.” In May’s opinion, Turkey is one of Britain’s “greatest friends” and she wants to build on their “400 year old” relationship when Queen Elizabeth I first opened trade with the Ottoman Empire. This seems fitting since Erdogan seems to have a vision of Turkey reminiscent of those times, with him as the neo-sultan.
The meeting was rightly criticized by some members of parliament in the opposition to May’s Conservative Party. The most vocal was the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron who feels May is seeking “trade deals with ever more unsavoury leaders, she ignores the simple point that the most successful countries around the world respect human rights.” Some NGOs were also critical of the meeting, including Amnesty International and the U.K. based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
CAAT spokesperson Andrew Smith said that the new defense deal shows that “There is a hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy, and the message this sends to those being repressed or locked up for their beliefs is that their human rights don’t matter. The fawning images and uncritical support are not just a propaganda victory for Erdoğan; they’re a slap in the face for human rights campaigners and political prisoners across Turkey.”
Nobody is denying that the U.K. has a right to find new willing trade partners for after they have officially left the EU. The problem is that Erdogan will use these strengthened ties to further solidify his position. This visit could be a key factor in aiding Erdogan in an upcoming referendum vote that will further expand the scope of his office and let him stay there longer. Maybe the U.K. Should worry more about smoothing over the options of still doing business within the EU before they go further propping up leaders like the neo-Ottoman in Ankara.
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James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.