Why Turkey matters for the United Kingdom


Prime Minister Theresa May will be welcoming President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today as part of his official visit to the U.K.

Erdogan's visit comes at a crucial time in our bilateral relationship. Turkey is an important NATO ally and partner. We are both members of the G20, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. That means we have a lot of shared interests and hence, why it is important to us both that our countries remain prosperous and secure.

This weekend I attended the annual U.K.-Turkey Tatlıdil forum, an event that brings together senior Turkish and British ministers and key players from world politics, commerce and civil society. We looked ahead at post-Brexit opportunities and I came away with a strong sense that Brexit will provide plenty of opportunities to increase the already fruitful cooperation between the U.K. and Turkey.

Turkey sits at the frontline of many of the big challenges the U.K. and indeed Europe face today. That is why our alliance and close cooperation is so vital. Our international engagement with Turkey is primarily framed around three areas: Security, trade and foreign policy.

On security, it is about our longstanding relationship as NATO allies, protecting our countries' citizens and dealing with mutual threats to our security such as from Daesh and the PKK. Turkey has had to cope with a number of unusual and enormous pressures.

The civil war in Syria has generated more than 3 million refugees inside Turkey — an enormous burden for any country — and one that Turkey has handled with huge generosity. Turkey is playing an important role in the fight against Daesh and other terrorist groups within its borders such as the PKK. Our cooperation with Turkey on this front is vital for the U.K.'s security too.

On the economic front, the U.K. and Turkey have a long history of trade. Turkey is a young, vibrant country of 80 million people with rapid economic growth. It therefore presents a lot of potential for us to increase our exports, encourage more investments and joint ventures. The U.K.-Turkey relationship is a growing, modern relationship of equals; a 16 billion pound trading relationship and the U.K. is Turkey's second-biggest export market and we are the second top investor.

Culturally, U.K. institutions have a high standing in Turkey and whether it's through our prestigious Chevening scholarship program or other means, the U.K. is a top destination for those wanting to study at world-class universities. Over the past year, over 3,700 Turkish students studied in higher education programs in the U.K. There is also a huge appetite among Turkey's young people to learn English. In 2017, around 3 million people in Turkey engaged with the British Council's online English language learning resource.

The U.K. is also home to a large Turkish community. Turkish food is growing in popularity — and for good reason. Simit, lahmacun, doner, pide, manti and baklava — I could go on listing all my favorite Turkish food, but I will stop there. These closer ties mean that behind the scenes, Turkish investors and skilled migrants are making significant contributions in the business field.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention the attempted coup in 2016. I landed in Ankara just days after this significant event and am well aware of the enduring impact it has had on Turkey and its people. It was important for the U.K. to stand by Turkey in the immediate aftermath of this terrible attack for the sake of Turkey's democracy, integrity and its future prosperity. I and others from the Prime Ministry down have understood the additional challenges these events have put on Turkey.

But as we have discussed with our Turkish friends, it is important that Turkey addresses these challenges in line with its long-standing democratic values and commitment to the rule of law. These are the pillars that allow any democracy to succeed.

As a friend of Turkey, we will continue to support it in overcoming these challenges, and the prime minister will absolutely reiterate to Erdogan our commitment to helping Turkey achieve these goals.​

*U.K. minister of state for Europe and the Americas

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