Brexit, opportunity for boosted Turkey-UK ties: Expert

Both countries aim for closer ties while drifting away from EU, says Turkish academic

As the U.K. government has proven to be unprepared for Brexit, this could serve as a vast opportunity for developing relations with non-EU states like Turkey, experts said.

According to Seckin Baris Gulmez, an assistant professor of international relations at Izmir Katip Celebi University, Turkey and the U.K. have been experiencing parallel situations in their relations with the EU, despite technically different processes.

Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 while accession talks began in 2005.

As for the U.K., it is set to leave the EU in March 2019 but a final deal to shape future U.K.-EU relations has yet to be agreed upon.

“Comparably, it seems that neither of the countries will totally get what they want from the EU,” Gulmez told Anadolu Agency in an email interview.

“It shows that both countries will get closer to each other while getting away from the EU in a harsh way,” he said.

The talks between Turkey and the EU stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration in the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.

Pointing out the friendly relations between Turkey and the U.K. for almost a century, Gulmez said both countries were of the opinion that “bilateral relations independent from the EU” would be beneficial.

Expressing hope for improved Turkey-U.K relations, Gulmez, highlighted that the U.K. was now in search of potential partners in the post-Brexit period.

“In this context, I believe that the Brexit process is a significant opportunity for Turkey to improve bilateral relations [with the U.K.] and gain a position against the EU,” said Gulmez, who recently worked on Turkish-British diplomatic relations.

It seems that Turkey would not miss that opportunity. As unveiled in the country’s 100-day action plan, it aims to strengthen trade and economic ties with the U.K. in the post-Brexit period.

Referendum without ‘alternative roadmap’

The British public opted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, ending the country’s 44-year-long membership with the bloc. Talks with the EU on the conditions of leaving the bloc began on June 2017.

According to Gulmez, the latest resignations in the Conservative Party in July was evidence that the British government was unprepared for Brexit.

Last month, Boris Johnson resigned as foreign secretary over disagreements with Theresa May and her Chequer’s Plan that sets out the U.K.’s relationship with the EU after Brexit.

Two vice chairs of the ruling Conservatives jumped ship following Johnson’s resignation, citing similar reasons.

“They couldn’t filter the determination of the public for Brexit till the very last moment,” said Gulmez.

Emre Gonen, an academic from the International Relations Department at Istanbul Bilgi University, puts the blame for the Brexit hurdle in the U.K. on the lack of an “alternative road map”.

“The main problem is that the Tory government organized the referendum without having an alternative road map,” Gonen said.

It led to difficulties in establishing a negotiating stance before the European Commission, which has “an experienced negotiator”, according to Gonen.

“This has created a very asymmetric situation where we see the parade of negotiators and politicians of the U.K. desisting one after the other, practically because they see the fragility of their stance,” he added.

Reversing Brexit, not probable

In recent months there have been growing calls for a second referendum on the final deal — yet to be agreed upon — between Brussels and London. “People’s Vote” — a campaign for a public vote on the final Brexit deal — has been steadily growing to show the government that support for remaining in the EU has grown considerably in the last two years.

On the recent shift in public opinion from Leave to Remain, Gonen said people discovered the vacuity of the arguments put forward by the Brexit supporters.

“However, a nationwide referendum was organized and there will be immense difficulties to overlook such a decision,” Gonen said.

Similarly, Gulmez does not consider the cancellation of Brexit or another referendum as likely. However, he emphasized the Conservatives’ failure in managing the Brexit process as the main motive for the public to revise the Brexit decision.

“The increased likelihood that the EU cannot be abandoned with the conditions desired has led to a focus on the disadvantages that Brexit will now cause, rather than its necessity. This naturally leads to regret,” Gulmez said.