UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had a series of discussions with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, underlining an apparently strong relationship between the UK and Turkey. The discussions were surprisingly positive since his rather rude poem about the Turkish President won a poetry prize earlier this year, for which he avoided apologising.
At the Anıtkabir, Johnson paid tribute to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first and secular President of the Republic of Turkey. Following July’s coup attempt, Johnson reiterated Britain’s solidarity with Turkey’s democratically-elected government. The talks covered shared priorities, including finding a solution to the war in Syria, the fight against Daesh and terrorism, the Cyprus settlement talks and building on the strength of UK-Turkish trade relations. For its part, Turkey is after UK’s support to prevent a Kurdish state configuring on its border with Syria and Iraq.
In Istanbul, Johnson met the Syrian opposition and members of the Syria Civil Defence, known as the “White Helmets”, an organisation working in the opposition-controlled areas of Syria. The Foreign Secretary also visited refugees at a camp near Gaziantep; he thanked the Turkish government for their generosity in hosting about three million refugees and Turkey’s contribution as part of the Global Coalition in the fight against Daesh. He congratulated them on the successful clearance of Daesh from the Syrian-Turkish border. Johnson praised a programme funded by UK taxpayers, whereby former UK military staff train the police forces in Aleppo, Hama and Idlip. He also announced a £65million package for non-humanitarian aid. Johnson said, “I am also clear that we have got to continue to put pressure on Russia to help stop the carnage, get the parties back to the negotiating table and stop their proxies in the Assad regime from unleashing violence.” This is a clear volte-face since as a columnist for the Telegraph in December 2015, he wrote in favour of working with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Johnson, previously as the leader of the Brexit campaign, threatened British EU-Remainers with the bogeyman Turkey’s EU membership, arousing fears of uncontrolled migration. In another curious U-turn this week, he offered to help Turkey “in any way”, which presumably means supporting Turkey’s entry in the EU. It is known that Cyprus will block this, also that France, Germany and Austria could object, but as an ex-member of the EU, Britain will carry no clout.