Boris affirms British support for Turkey joining the EU just months after having decried it

Towards the end of Britain’s EU referendum campaign, Vote Leave attacked the government for supporting Turkey’s bid to join the EU. It warned that Turkey, Serbia and Macedonia could end up joining the EU. If Britain remained in the EU, it risked facing an even greater flow of immigration than it does at present. 

Boris Johnson had been one of the most prominent politicians to decry the government’s support for Turkey’s application to join the EU. And yet today he supports the policy as Foreign Secretary. Apparently, Britain will “help Turkey in any way it can”.

Changing colours

Boris Johnson says all sorts of things and often contradicts himself. Prior to the referendum, Johnson had been calling for Turkey to join the EU for over a decade. Then he joined the Leave Campaign. Turkey went from being a country we should embrace, to one we should keep at a safe distance. So in a way Johnson is simply reverting to his original position. Although it’s unclear whether he has a firm view one way or the other…

The rationale

There is a rationale behind Britain continuing to support Turkey’s accession. While Britain’s influence with the EU has been diminished since June 23, it can still recommend that Turkey be admitted to the club.

True, its recommendation will not make EU leaders any more likely to fast-track Turkey’s application. But that needn’t matter because it’s the thought that counts. Britain’s continued support for Turkey’s accession means better relations with Turkey than if Britain were to withdraw that support.

Of course, just because Britain has officially supported Turkey’s accession for years now doesn’t mean to say that Britain’s support was ever sincere. Britain could voice support for the principle of Turkish accession to foster better relations with Turkey safe in the knowledge that Turkey would’t be admitted to the club. Turkey is a long way off meeting the EU’s entry requirements. Furthermore, there was always a good chance that other EU members would veto Turkey’s admittance.

Ah, diplomacy…