To think UK backed Brexit on theory Turkey was about to join

by Hugo Dixon | 16.07.2016

The idea that 80 million Turks were heading for Britain to take our jobs and use our NHS was always fanciful. After the failed coup, Leave voters duped by this scaremongering might like to think again.

One of the Leave camp’s most successful ploys was to argue that Turkey was scheduled to join the EU in 2020. The notion that millions of mostly Muslim Turks were on the point of descending on the UK provoked a powerful visceral reaction among the voters. But it was fiction.

True, Turkey is a candidate member of the EU. True that David Cameron had in the past said he wanted it to join. True, too, that EU promised to energise talks to make this happen a few months ago as part of a deal to persuade Turkey to help stop the flood of migrants from Syria and further afield into Greece and, from there, into the Schengen Area.

But Turkey has been a candidate member since 1987. To join, it needs to prove it is a modern European democracy. This involves ticking 35 boxes on everything from the economy to human rights. In the last 29 years, it has ticked just one of these boxes. At the current rate, it wouldn’t complete the process for another 986 years.

What’s more, the deal to energise talks in return for Turkey stopping the flood of migrants was based on hypocrisy on both sides. The other EU countries, all of whom have a veto on Turkey joining, don’t want it as a member – at least until it makes massive changes in the way it works. Nor does President Recep Tayyib Erdogan, as doing so would involve him abandoning his authoritarian ways. That said, it was convenient for the EU to pretend that it wanted Turkey to join and for Erdogan to pretend he wanted to be in the club.

Turkey has a poor record on media freedom and the rule of law. A 2015 report by the European Commission highlighted concerns on “discrimination against women and gender-based violence” and “backsliding” on freedom of expression, media and the internet.

The failed coup is likely to make it even clearer that Turkey isn’t ready for EU membership. The fact that army came so close to overthrowing an elected government shows that the country is a long way from becoming a modern democracy. It will also give Erdogan a perfect excuse to crack down not only on the culprits but also on anybody else he doesn’t like.

At some point many years in the future, Turkey may be ready to join the EU. But it isn’t remotely on the agenda now. Anybody who voted for Brexit thinking it was might like to reflect on the matter.

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