Talking Turkey: Leave camp must be confused…

by Luke Lythgoe | 06.05.2016

Try as they might – and they try a lot – Brexiteers can’t quite seem to nail the reality of the EU’s relationship with Turkey. Either that, or they don’t want to grasp it.

The perfect example appeared in an email from Vote Leave to their supporters claiming: “The recent announcement of unrestricted visa-free movement for Turkey’s 76 million people will place an unprecedented strain on our public services and further cripple the NHS.”

Vote Leave email on Turkey and NHS


The EU’s visa-free travel deal with Turkey will do no such thing, for two reasons. Firstly, the deal is limited. It allows Turks to visit only for “90 days within any 180-day period for business, touristic or family purposes”. Secondly, it applies only to countries in the border-free Schengen Area, of which the UK is not a part.

Vote Leave’s confusion seems to arise from blending a number of different Turkey-related arguments. This started with a UKIP warning that Ankara would fully join the EU in 2020 and that Turks, free to travel inside the bloc, would then pour into Britain en masse to take advantage of our high wages. The crux of this scaremongering focused on Turkey’s large population, backsliding human rights and predominantly Muslim culture.

But this notion of fast-approaching Turkish membership is delusional. Turkey first applied to the EU in 1987 and has since closed just one of 35 accession “chapters” crammed with criteria which it must meet before it can join – including on human rights. Turkish membership can also be vetoed by any member state, with France and Austria having voiced strong opposition. No wonder David Cameron said it could take decades for Turkey to join. Even if it were to do so, the EU is proposing many years of transitional controls on migration from any new member.

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    But then came the EU’s visa-free travel deal with Turkey. Preparations for this were already underway, but Brussels accelerated the process in return for Ankara’s cooperation in its controversial migration policy in the Aegean.

    Muddling two issues, the Leave campaign has tacked on all the arguments of full Turkish membership to the visa-free scheme, ignoring the superficial nature of the arrangement. They assume the deal will see “economic migrants” flood into the EU, reunite with relatives in Europe, camp at Calais and ultimately swamp British public services.

    The bafflement goes deeper. Do they think all Turkey’s 76 million citizens will flee and overwhelm Britain, turning their homeland into a Turk-free zone? What’s more, references to “unrestricted visa-free movement” ignore checks built into the deal, such as a suspension mechanism if the EU discovers too many Turks are overstaying their visas. They’ve also misunderstood how family reunification cases work, with relatives generally having to be outside a country when they apply. Another warning, that “Britain’s new border is with Syria and Iraq”, particularly warps logic. Britain itself has visa-free travel with Israel, a neighbour of Syria’s, so – by Brexiteer logic – this terrifying scenario has already unfolded.

    Surely such a litany of confusion can’t be a deliberate ploy to scare the electorate into voting Leave on 23 June? It must be a simple misunderstanding. Surely…?

    Edited by Alan Wheatley

    4 Responses to “Talking Turkey: Leave camp must be confused…”

    • This article covers very similar ground to the one at http://infacts.org/vote-leaves-project-fear-distortion/ where comments have been posted – not least one from me.

      No we should not confuse visa-free temporary admission with full Turkish accession to the EU. Full accession is some time away but visa-free travel is expected to take effect almost immediately we have voted on 23.06.16. We also have visa-free travel arrangements with 56 countries including Panama – papers and all!!

      Leakage from visa free travel is a notoriously difficult problem for border forces to control as you first have to find the offenders who are disinclined to reveal their whereabouts. Where BREXIT have the leverage is that we are falling over ourselves for Turkey because of the refugee management agreement our need for which may make us disinclined to act as rigorously as we should on enforcement.

      What we need is a referendum lock so Turkey cannot accede to the EU without a full UK referendum.