May rolls out red carpet for Erdoğan despite opposition

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is rolling out the red carpet for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including giving him tea with the Queen, despite criticism from opposition politicians, who point to his growing authoritarianism, the Financial Times said.

Unlike many of its Western partners, the Conservative Party government sees Turkey as too important to ignore, even as Erdoğan tightens his grip on power, imprisoning hundreds of journalists, intellectuals, politicians and human rights campaigners on terrorism charges, Laura Pitel and Henry Mance wrote in the FT.

“Britain has chosen to remain largely silent in public on concerns about the erosion of human rights, the rule of law and, more recently, Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria,” they wrote. “UK officials argue that berating Mr. Erdoğan in public is counterproductive. They say that they raise concerns behind the scenes instead.”

Erdoğan starts a three-day visit to Britain on Sunday. The meetings come just a few weeks after he called snap presidential and parliamentary elections for June 24. The visit helps Erdoğan improve his international image among Turkish voters just as they choose whether to give him a mandate to abolish Turkey’s parliamentary system of government and replace it with an all-powerful presidency. In contrast, Erdoğan isn’t expected to be invited to EU capitals before the vote.

Downing Street is keen to further commercial ties with Turkey, which include a lucrative contract to help Turkey make its own jet fighter, Pitel and Mance wrote.

The warm tone of Conservative Brexit politicians is starkly different from their criticism during the campaign to leave the European Union, when they warned of the dangers of Turkish migration and Erdoğan’s poor human rights record. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson even wrote a poem ridiculing the Turkish leader.

“The British attitude is that, while there are clearly worrying developments in Turkey, engagement is not about an individual,” said Ziya Meral, a researcher at the British Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research, according to the FT. “It is about the fact that Turkey is too big to walk away from.”