- Can you please tell us the difference between England, the United Kingdom, Great Britain, Common Wealth?
The UK is shorthand for ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. The UK is a sovereign, nation state, which is made up of four principle parts. England is the biggest one of them. The others are Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the large island that consists of England, Scotland and Wales. The term Great Britain is often used as a synonym for the UK, which is not strictly correct as Great Britain does not include Northern Ireland. The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 53 states or countries. The vast majority of them are formerly British colonies or territories.
- How would you describe the historic background of your country’s Turkey relations?
The first English ambassador to Turkey, Sir William Harborne, was appointed in 1582. (This was before the creation of the UK.) The appointment was motivated by two things. Both England and the Ottoman Empire felt threatened by Spain. And England wanted to strengthen trade relations with the Ottomans. Those two factors – a sense of common strategic alignment and a desire to improve commercial relations – have remained important for both countries ever since.
For most of the last 450 years, Britain and Turkey viewed each other favourably from opposite ends of Europe. The distance between us meant that our interests were rarely in conflict. During the Napoleonic wars, Britain’s navy prevented the French army from invading the Ottoman Empire in Egypt. Britain and the Ottoman Empire worked together to constrain Russia’s expansion in the 19th century. Our soldiers fought alongside each other in the Crimean War. However, during the First World War, the UK and the Ottoman Empire found themselves exceptionally on opposite sides. Friendly relations restarted in the 1920s where successive British governments came to respect and admire Mustapha Kemal Ataturk’s leadership of the new republic of Turkey. More recently, Britain and Turkey fought together in the Korean War and were close NATO allies during the Cold War.
But it’s not just about wars. For the last 20 years or so, the UK has been a strong supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU. We have generally seen Turkey as both an historic and contemporary European power; close and strengthening relations between Turkey and other European countries and institutions is, we believe, very much in the interests of all us. Of course, now that the UK has left the EU, we can no longer play the role of Turkey’s champion within that organisation.
- Where do you think your relations stand with Turkey today?
Our relationship with Turkey has always been important but it is arguably more vital today. Turkey sits on the frontline of some of the most difficult and serious challenges we both face like terrorism, organised crime, irregular migration, and nuclear weapons proliferation. It is and it will be necessary to increase our cooperation further to overcome these challenges.
Our commercial links hugely matter to both of us. The UK is Turkey’s second largest export market. Our trade has grown by 50% in the last 10 years and it is now worth some $22 bn. UK companies are amongst the biggest investors in Turkey. Vodafone, Shell, BP, BAE Systems, Rolls Royce are some of them. There is also significant investment from Turkey to the UK.
Turkey has also become a very important holiday destination for British people. Last year, some 2.6 million Britons flew into Turkey for short visits, which is a record. There were many Turks who went to the UK too. I hope that the people to people links, which will develop as a result of these high numbers of people traveling in both directions, will become a key underpinning of good relations between us.
- What potential challenges and benefits lie ahead in our bilateral relations?
Having left the EU, the main priority of the current UK government is to build our international relations as a sovereign, independent country once again. The UK’s bilateral relations with Turkey will be an important part of this. Turkey is a G20 member, a NATO ally and a founder member of the Council of Europe, as is the UK. We therefore have much in common and will continue to work to strengthen our cooperation in these organisations and bilaterally. There is also great potential between our countries on trade and investment. The immediate objective for 2020 will be to reach a bilateral free trade agreement to provide for preferential access between our countries in time for our departure from the EU customs union at the end of this year.
- Where does your country stand in respect of the Middle-East and Eastern Mediterranean?
UK remains fully committed to the security of the region. We regard the PKK as a terrorist organisation and have taken strong measures against it at home. The UK and Turkey share the objective of defeating Daesh. Turkey also does a huge amount to disrupt the threat posed to our countries by terrorists, including foreign fighters, leaving Syria. On the Eastern Mediterranean, the UK takes its responsibilities as a guarantor of Cyprus seriously. We fully support a Cyprus settlement and hope that, through dialogue and engagement by all sides, under the auspices of the UN, a lasting solution will be possible. A divided island and the tensions that arise from time to time because of it do not serve the interests of the Turkish or Greek Cypriots.
- What would you wish for the relations with Turkey in the short and mid-term?
My main wish is that, now that the UK has left the EU, we will be able to build an even stronger relationship, based on mutual respect and the pursuit of our many common interests. In the short and medium term, there are potential opportunities for us to continue to develop our cooperation, whether in the field of bilateral trade and investment, or working together with Turkey for regional stability and security. This year, the UK and Italy are the co-presidents of the UN climate change conference, which will take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November. I am looking forward to working with Turkey in the course of this year on what is probably the biggest long term challenge to us all on our planet namely how to control our emissions and keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees.
- What is your personal experience in Turkey?
This is my second posting in Turkey. I worked in the British embassy in Ankara from 1985-88 when Turgut Ozal was prime minister. Turkey is, of course, a much more advanced country these days with really outstanding infrastructure. But my experience of Turkey now is similar in its essentials to that of 35 years ago. Turks are famously hospitable people and this is a fascinating country to travel around, with a matchless variety of culture and history. I have been to all Turkey’s regions (though not yet to all its provinces) and usually manage to mix business and pleasure on these visits. I enjoy meeting Turkish people – it helps that I speak a little Turkish – and I love the food here. As a sports fan, I also take a close interest in the fortunes of Fenerbahce. I spend quite a bit of time in Istanbul too, which must be one of the greatest and most vibrant cities in the world.
- Do you have any recommendations for Turkish people wishing to do business in or travel to your country?
Yes, please come here and see the conditions in Turkey for yourself. Turkey’s reputation overseas is probably not as strong as it should be. There are many misconceptions out there. This is a mostly very safe country to visit. There’s lots to enjoy, whether you want history, culture or simply a Mediterranean beach holiday. If you are interested in business, our commercial staff in Istanbul and Ankara will be only too happy to help.