London, March 14, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Thanasis Gavos
A series of public statements by British politicians over the last few days have cast doubt on the UK’s traditionally strong support for Turkey’s accession to the European Union.
Speaking to the BBC, Chancellor George Osborne said that he doesn’t think Turkish accession is on the cards “any time soon”. He went as far as raising the possibility of the UK blocking such a development. “We could, if we wanted to, veto it as other countries could,” was the Chancellor’s comment.
One of the forerunners to replace David Cameron at the helm of the Conservative Party before the next general election in 2020, Mr Osborne was prompted to comment on the chances of Turkey becoming a full member of the EU following Ankara’s demand that its accession talks progress faster in return for its cooperation on stemming the migrant and refugee flows into Greece and Europe.
“We can set conditions and we have made it absolutely clear that we will not accept new member states to the European Union and give them unfettered free movement of people unless their economies are much closer in size and prosperity to our,” added George Osborne.
His comments betray the uneasiness with which the British government has been watching President Erdogan slipping into increasingly authoritarian practices, with the suppression of the press high on the condemnation list of British politicians, commentators and freedom of speech groups.
London, as the rest of the West, has also been wary of the security challenges Turkey has been facing in recent years at its border, in essence annulling current Prime Minister Davutoglu’s policy of ‘zero problems’ with the neighbours. “Turkey seems to be in turmoil and not on good terms with almost everyone that matters,” a Whitehall official commented.
Mr Osborne is also mindful of the negative impact that talk of Turkey’s accession could have in the campaign to reject Brexit, with the referendum on whether the UK should remain or leave the EU due to be held on June 23.
Conservative former minister Owen Paterson, who is backing an EU exit, told Sky News that “letting in 77 million people who have a long 750-mile border with, sadly, incredibly unstable… states, Syria and Iraq, I think is something of real concern to many people.” He went on to predict that the Turkish issue would “undoubtedly” influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum.
Employment minister Priti Patel said the prospect of Turkey entering the EU free movement zone highlights the “risk” to the UK of staying in the EU. Even Mayor of London Boris Johnson, a leading figure of the Brexit camp, has voiced concerns about a “huge” free travel zone.
Meanwhile, the Turkish-EU agreement that brought these concerns to the fore has preoccupied the House of Commons too. A long-standing friend of Cyprus, north London Conservative MP David Burrowes asked the Minster for Europe David Lidington whether he would confirm that in the negotiations, the European Union “will not renege on its commitment to ensure that no progress is made on those two matters before the Republic of Cyprus has been recognised, and progress has been made towards a solution to the Cyprus problem.”
Mr Lidington acknowledged that Cyprus was one of the issues that have stalled the accession negotiations in recent years. He said that this too would have to be thought and talked about before the coming European Council meeting at the end of the week. “There has been no agreement, as yet, on the opening of any accession chapter.