UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who is seeking better trade deals with European nations as her country is bracing for a hard Brexit, clinched a controversial arms deal with Turkey, where rights groups are alarmed over the widening crackdown.
May’s Turkey visit came a day after her meeting with U.S. President Donald J. Trump who praised Britons for their decision to leave the EU in Washington, D.C. May met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, in an effort to diversify and deepen London’s economic ties with non-EU countries for a soft landing against possible calamitous effects of the Brexit, which left a divided and polarized country after the fateful decision last summer.
Britain’s BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) reached a £100 million agreement to produce Turkey’s fighter jet program TF-X in a move that met with criticism from rights groups who slammed May for turning a blind eye to Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents since the failed coup attempt in July last year.
“This agreement underlines once again that Britain is a great, global, trading nation and that we are open for business,” the British prime minister said after the deal. May who is struggling to get better terms from the EU over the Brexit is looking for enhancing Britain’s economic standing around the globe with new deals and agreements. The jet deal, she said, “marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come.”
Chief Executive of BAE Systems Ian King also hailed the deal and deemed it as the next step in a deepening defense cooperation. “It will also pave the way for a deeper defense partnership and could effectively make the UK Turkey’s partner of choice, positioning it as a key aerospace technology exporter to Turkey,” King told Reuters in a statement.
During a press conference along with Mr. Erdogan, May recalled that the U.K. stood with the Turkish government during coup attempt on July 15. “And now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations — as the government has undertaken to do,” she said.
Advanced cooperation in trade and security topped her agenda, while she evaded talking about the unfolding political tumult in Turkey ahead of the looming referendum about the transition to an executive presidency. Turkey has been gripped by an unabated sweeping purge of opponents by the government from public service since an abortive coup. More than 135,000 public officials have been dismissed from bureaucracy, while 43,000 people were placed in jail in connection to the coup.
May’s what critics dubbed as “morality-free approach” in foreign policy has generated criticism back in London. “The crackdown has intensified, and so has the war on journalism, yet Theresa May has shown she is willing to turn a blind eye to these abuses in order to secure arms company profits,” Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told Guardian.
“Those are separate issues. Turkey is an important NATO partner and so our cooperation on both security and defense is in light of that,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said in response to media criticism.
May also drew ire when she dodged a question about Mr. Trump’s decision to ban Muslims entering the U.S. from 7 countr’es and refused to criticize the controversial move that sparked nationwide protests across the U.S. “The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees,” May said, shying away from criticism of the new Trump administration.
“The United Kingdom is responsible for the United Kingdom’s policy on refugees and our policy on refugees is to have a number of voluntary schemes to bring Syrian refugees into the country, particularly those who are most vulnerable, but also to provide significant financial contributions to support refugees in countries surrounding Syria,” BBC quoted the British prime minister as saying. Her remarks unleashed a barrage of criticism from all corners of British political spectrum.
Labour Party Chairman Jeremy Corbyn said May should have stood up for British values. “President Trump’s executive order against refugees and Muslims should shock and appall us all,” Corbyn said.
“After Trump’s hideous actions and May’s weak failure to condemn them, it’s more important than ever for us to say to refugees seeking a place of safety, that they will always be welcome in Britain,” the Labour leader added.
Unlike his British counterpart, Mr. Yildirim was blunt in his denouncement of Mr. Trump’s executive order and said U.N. members “cannot turn a blind eye to this issue and settle it by constructing walls.”
“Nobody leaves their homes for nothing. They came here to save their lives and our doors were open. And if the same thing happened, we would do it again,” Mr. Yildirim said. Turkey settled nearly 3 million refugees. The Turkish prime minister lamented about insufficient funding from global powers and the U.N.
After facing much criticism, May’s spokesman said on Sunday that she does not agree with Mr. Trump’s ban on migrants.
During a bilateral meeting, May and Mr. Erdogan also discussed the Syrian conflict and the Cyprus peace talks. The Turkish president said the two countries aim to increase trade volume from $15.6 billion to $20 billion. Both countries desperately eye for new openings in their foreign policy and economic relations. Turkey faces growing international criticism over human rights violations, erosion of the rule of law and democracy during the emergency rule, while the U.K. struggles to secure a clear Brexit on best possible terms.