Joint Forum ‘Brexit, Turkey and the European Union’

17 November 2016,

House of Commons

This event organised in partnership with Friends of Turkey Group in the European Parliament was kindly hosted and chaired by Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. Geoffrey Van Orden, Conservative MEP for East England and Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon were the keynote speakers.

Catherine West MP began by discussing her constituency and the large Turkish speaking community she represents. She stated that she and other MPs with similar constituent populations have been writing to the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and calling for him to put pressure on the Turkish government on issues raised by human rights abuses. She also stated however that Turkey has a huge role in European affairs on various issues, especially on the refugee-migrant crisis.

Mr Van Orden began by discussing Turkey’s ambivalent relationship with the European Union (EU). He noted that Turkey first applied to join the European Community in 1959 and later made the 1963 Ankara Association Agreement. He discussed the opening of Turkey’s EU accession discussions in 2004 and the lack of progress surrounding this process.

He stated that in terms of Turkey’s relationship with the EU, that the most important development was when a customs union was agreed between both parties in 1995, meaning that both would not impose tariffs on each other’s goods, but also place them on external goods. He added that in the case of Turkey, this covers most non-agricultural goods, but not services. He continued, arguing that the biggest obstacle to Turkey’s EU membership however, is Turkey’s desire for the free movement of Turkish citizens within the EU, to which EU member states are generally opposed. He continued, arguing Germany’s fear that it would no longer be the most influential power in the EU with Turkish membership, losing its large sway on the council of ministers. He also added that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French politicians and also the head of the European Commission had expressed scepticism about Turkey’s EU membership, and that these presented clear obstacles to it. He noted however, that Turkey was able to make the Refugee Readmission Deal with the EU which promised visa-liberalisation for Turkish citizens.

On discussing the UK’s future relationship with the EU, he considered the plausibility of Norway and Switzerland as models for Brexit but concluded that neither were suitable for Britain. He commented that Switzerland’s sector based relationship which does not include banking was unsuitable for the British for this reason, and added that while Norway has free movement of goods and services it also has free movement of people which Britain does not want. Discussing the option of Britain trading via the World Trade Organisation, he added that this only deals with tariffs, and does not provide the firm footing for banking that Britain would want.

He also mentioned that British Governments have traditionally been supportive of Turkish EU accession, and that there is now talk of a special trade arrangement between Britain and Turkey which could however potentially be limited by Turkey’s remaining in a customs union with the EU.

He concluded expressing hope for a “benign Brexit” and argued that Britain should not be treated by other EU leaders with hostility not only given the security, political and economic difficulties presently faced by the world, but also because of how much Britain has paid in to the EU alongside the fact that the present British Prime Minister Theresa May voted to remain.

Mr Kinnock began by discussing the importance of European values of Liberty, Democracy and Respect for Human Rights to Turkish EU accession, given what he referred to as an increasingly authoritarian streak by the Turkish Government. He mentioned the many Turkish officials being arrested as part of the purges and also of journalists, and that these abuses of human rights and European values should disqualify Turkey from being an EU candidate country.

He stated that Turkish Government officials had told him in the early 2010s that Turkey’s journey towards the EU was more important than than the destination even if Turkey ultimately did not join, but he added now that this journey seems to have “gone up in smoke”.

He also expressed another concern for Britain, arguing that the British Government had espoused angry nationalist rhetoric when dealing with other EU leaders. He stated that he saw a trend of these sentiments growing in Britain, Germany, France, Turkey and the United States and elsewhere with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of other extreme parties and candidates as examples of this. He added that the most important part of future Brexit negotiations was a smooth transition that would ultimately lead to a trade deal which the other member state governments would ratify. He also noted that with the the rise of these extreme movements in Europe, various EU leaders would be less conciliatory towards Britain for fear of losing politically to extreme parties. He concluded, stating that Britain with Brexit and Turkey’s behaviour have united the EU in moving away from Turkish membership and uniting the other EU members against Britain.

The speeches were followed by a question and answer session.

Summarised by Edward Rowe.

Speaker Biographies

Geoffrey Van Orden has been Conservative MEP for the East of England since 1999. He is the Conservative Defence & Security Spokesman in the European Parliament. He previously had a wide-ranging career as a British Army officer, was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps in 1964 and carried out operational duties in many parts of the world starting in Borneo in 1965. His last appointment was at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, from 1991 to 1994. His specialisation in counter-terrorism, which he continues from a political standpoint, began during his years in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.

While seeking a parliamentary seat, he was a senior official in the European Commission (External Relations) dealing with foreign policy, security and defence issues. This included delivering counter-terrorist assistance to Arafat’s Palestine Authority in 1996 and establishing the Commission as the leading provider of assistance for anti-personnel landmine action, including support for landmine victims.

He is a former Vice Chairman and now member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and of its Defence & Security sub-committee as well as its Delegations to Turkey and to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He is Chairman of the Delegation for Relations with India.

He is strongly against European political integration and has led opposition to EU defence policy, which he believes detrimental to NATO.  He spearheaded the Parliament’s action against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe and supported the growth of democracy in Myanmar. He was the Parliament’s rapporteur for Bulgaria until its EU accession in 2007. As part of his defence and security brief he also takes a close interest in defence industries and issues of energy security.He was instrumental in the creation of, and now Vice Chairman of, the European Conservatives and Reformists political group, the third largest of 8 groups in the European Parliament with 75 MEPs from 17 nations. He is Founding President of the think-tank, New Direction- The Foundation for European Reform.

Stephen Kinnock is the Labour Member of Parliament for Aberavon, having been elected in 2015. Previously, Stephen was the Director and Head of Europe and Central Asia at the World Economic Forum, having worked for the British Council for more than 12 years where he held senior UK and international positions in Russia, Sierra Leone and across Europe. In 2012 he took up a position at Xyntéo in London, an advisory company that helps global businesses go beyond the green basics and reinvent the way they grow.