Brexit finally gets underway this week. So now is the time for the United Kingdom to make equal haste with rejuvenating its diplomatic and trade ties in the world, beginning with Turkey.
For years the potential of the UK’s ties with Turkey has been smothered by the sweaty, asphyxiating blanket of European Union accession talks with Ankara. No-one in their right mind, on either side of the Bosphorus, believed in earnest that Turkey would join the EU in their lifetime.
Nevertheless, the prospect of membership was avidly promoted and kept alive for years, tethering the relationship to the rigid and clumsy structures of accession talks.
Ironically, the UK was among the great champions of Turkish accession. While this was politically astute for the UK at the time, it is now proving a calamitous strategy for the EU as a whole.
Relations between Berlin and Ankara have all but collapsed. We have seen clashes between riot police and the Turkish diaspora on the streets of European cities. The severe and alarming political instability in Turkey cannot be seen in isolation from Europe’s badly failing diplomacy.
As a Briton of eastern European descent, I can tell you a thing or two about how mind-numbingly bureaucratic EU accession talks are. Sliced up into dozens of negotiation chapters, they diminish the subtlety of foreign diplomacy to the adoption of the domestic policy minutiae of the “acquis”, the EUs 170,000 page long rule book.
More importantly, they whip up false hope on one side, while spurring xenophobe sentiment on the other. They sow the seeds of popular disillusionment and frustration. At some point, the chickens inevitably come home to roost. Unfortunately for Turkey and the EU that time seems to be now.
Brexit frees us from the millstone of EU intrusion in our own domestic affairs. Among its many boons is that it casts aside the sickly Brussels blanket that has been allowed to stifle the best of our diplomatic traditions. We should now shred this blanket, set it on fire, throw it out of the window, and take a deep gulp of fresh air.
Brexit is simple. It merely means recognising the truth: we are a free and sovereign nation, not merging with our partners, but constructively seeking to advance and balance our enduring interests through trade and cooperation with other sovereign nations. And so is Turkey.
As an ally, Turkey is of the greatest strategic importance for the UK, and though they seem tragically unable to grasp it, for Europe too. In virtue of its geography alone, Turkey’s significance is only going to increase with the years.
The world’s hotbed of war, terror, and sectarianism, which has already generated a massive displacement of people to Europe, lies right on Turkey’s doorstep. As the ever strategically minded Russians appear to have realised some time before us, in working with Turkey, a zone of comparative stability, lies our one and best hope of getting a handle on the violent convulsions that are ripping through the Middle East.
The UK has no choice but to raise and object to grave violations of the rule of law and the rights of individuals in Turkey, as elsewhere in the world. This remains inherent in who we are. And it makes diplomacy into what it is: a delicate balancing act.
Yes, the danger of democracy unravelling in Turkey should cause us genuine concern. But so should the collapse of diplomatic ties with Turkey, warts and all, and the country’s nascent reorientation towards Moscow and non-Western groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
The UK should never permit its relations to suffer in the way that Turkish-German relations are currently. From the strategic and security perspective this would be – and in Europe’s case already is – a catastrophe.
Free from all EU baggage, we in the UK have a chance to recover the diplomatic balance in our relations with the Turks that our European partners are sorely lacking.
As the Westminster attack last week sadly demonstrate, terror won’t spare us. It strikes at us all, and it can only be defeated in close cooperation with other countries, not least of all Turkey.
Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, is one of the authors of the Foreign Select Committee report on UK-Turkey relations, published Saturday.