Distorted claims about Turkey

My eye’s recently been caught by a string of stories from Vote Leave, blatantly scaremongering about Turkey. Yet Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell were both founder-members of Conservative Friends of Turkey, whose aims include to “Lobby in favour of Turkish membership of the EU”: have they had a politically-convenient change of heart?

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, which has been a church, a mosque, and is now a museum

The messaging has been blunt. The front page of Vote Leave’s web site currently (29 May 2016) leads with “Turkey joining the EU means even more stress on our country”. There have been posters from them saying Turkey is joining the EU, and an infographic on facebook showing a map of Europe with showing the population of Turkey as 77 Million, and an arrow from there to the UK, as if the entire population of Turkey is coming here. That makes UKIP’s wildly exaggerated claims about migration from Romania and Bulgaria a few years back seem moderate.

This is scaremongering, and grossly irresponsible.

The case for Turkey joining the EU

A case can certainly be made for Turkey to join the EU, or at least to have closer ties. It stands between the EU and turbulent territory in the middle east. In the long term, it is in the interests of the EU to see a stable, secular, democratic Turkey between us and nations like Iraq and Syria. In the short term, it is also in our interests to co-operate over responses to the crisis caused by people fleeing Syria.

There are also real concerns about Turkey’s suitability, which reflect the fact that it looks in both directions and mean it’s pathway to EU membership is not straightforward. On the other hand, the peace-building role of the EU is partly about preventing another war like those of the last century, and partly about securing stability and a healthy democracy in countries, particularly on the eastern edges of Europe, which could stumble in another direction.

A very slow process

Turkey first applied to join the (then) EEC in 1987, and was finally recognised as a candidate for admission in 1999, but for all the process is being described as “fast-tracked”, it is going very slowly. On 26 May 2016, in response to a question from Douglas Carswell, David Lidington, Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said:

“As the Prime Minister has made clear, Turkey’s EU accession is not remotely on the cards for many years to come.

“Turkey has to negotiate 35 different chapters. Since EU accession negotiations with Turkey started in 2005, only one chapter has been closed. Decisions to open chapters, to agree that conditions have been met and to close chapters all require the unanimous agreement of EU Member States. Once all chapter negotiations have been completed and closed, there must be another unanimous decision on accession. All 28 Member States then have to ratify an accession treaty, and the European Parliament has to approve the accession. Some EU Member States have already committed to undertake a referendum on Turkey’s accession to the EU. In the case of the UK, under the European Union Act 2011, ratification cannot take place without an Act of Parliament to approve the new accession. We can therefore ensure that our requirements are respected in any future EU enlargement.”

There are real concerns about Turkey’s suitability to join the EU. If Turkey changed enough to meet the EU criteria, then these concerns would greatly lessened — but each of the EU member states could still veto it. There is no sense that the UK can be “forced” to go along with Turkish admission.


The idea that 77 million Turks would flood into the UK is nonsense. Many would not chose to leave Turkey, even with free movement of people. Of those who did, the large Turkish population in Germany makes it a more natural destination. If Turkey were stable enough to join the EU, then its also work asking how many British people would move there, as they have one to Spain.

Johnson and Douglas Carswell changing their tune

The Conservative Friends of Turkey web site is unambiguous, listing Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell as founder members and lobbying for Turkey to enter the EU as one of their objectives. It’s hard not to infer that both Johnson and Carswell have had changes of heart in order to scaremonger. That is not impressive.

A sane alternative

While Vote Leave have been scaremongering about Turkey joining the EU in the near future, former Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff was in Turkey on 28 May to speak at Bilgi University on the need for a fresh start to EU-Turkey relations not based on false premise of full membership. There speaks the voice of European good sense.

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