Spotlight on Turkey in latest Brexit row

Spotlight on Turkey in latest Brexit row

London, May 23, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Thanasis Gavos

A month before the crucial EU referendum in the UK, the Remain camp seems to be winning the economic and security argument in the often bitter debate. As many commentators had long expected, the Brexit supporters are therefore increasingly trying to turn the voters’ focus on immigration.

All sides recognise that the British public share a concern, to a larger or lesser extent, about the pressure put on public services by the increased net migration; and anyone following media discussions with the public’s participation would quickly realise that central to that concern is the prospect of Turkey entering the EU and its tens of millions citizens automatically gaining the right to free movement within the Union.

The Remain campaign was quick off the mark to attempt to alleviate these concerns recognising they present a breeding ground for Brexiteers. First George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (that is Finance Minister to the rest of Europe), then Prime Minister Cameron and Foreign Secretary Hammond used the same phrase to pre-actively discredit the Brexit campaign’s arguments: “it is not remotely in the cards for Turkey to join the EU, not in decades,” they said.

Their readiness to disown successive UK governments’ strong support for Turkish EU membership demonstrates what’s at stake on 23rd June.

A little belatedly, the Brexit camp recognised that Prime Minister Cameron and Co had almost managed to gain the initiative on the Turkey argument. Then, Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt came out all blazing and striking hard: the migration crisis deal between Ankara and the EU would hasten Turkish accession, which could happen in the next eight years; Britain doesn’t have a veto over it; and “terrorists and gangsters” from EU accession candidate countries such as Turkey and Albania would freely enter the UK.

In what has been described as a “remarkable escalation” of the Brexit row within the ruling Conservative party, Mr Cameron rebuked his minister’s “misleading” claim, replying that the UK does have a veto over Turkey’s accession, like any other current member-state. And then he added that Turkey “applied in 1987 and at the current rate of progress, they will probably get round to joining in about the year 3,000, according to the latest forecasts.”

Diplomatic sources commented that the Prime Minister’s increasingly dismissive comments over Turkey’s accession prospects may also betray a sense of doubt over President Erdogan’s approach to fulfilling some of the EU prerequisites.

They also noted that Turkey features as a main concern for the UK government ahead of the EU referendum in another respect, namely the risk of the migration deal collapsing over the summer and of new refugee flows into Europe images emerging from the Aegean.