The United Kingdom’s decision to quit the European Union will not change her status as a global power and her ambitions in foreign policy, a high-ranking British diplomat has said, stressing that British diplomacy is preparing for the new era by re-focusing on the kingdom’s ties with its traditional allies, like Turkey, and the 52-member Commonwealth.
“The one thing Brexit has not changed, and Turks will not be surprised by this, is Britain’s sense and ambitions. You know we’re a global power, we have naval warships in the Far East enforcing sanctions on North Korea. We have defense agreements with countries like Singapore and Malaysia. You know our relationship with Australia and New Zealand. There is no sign at all of us wanting to change that,” Richard Moore, the director general for Political Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Nov. 23.
Moore, who had served as the British ambassador to Turkey between 2014 and 2017, paid a visit to Ankara last week to hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakçı and presidential adviser İbrahim Kalın.
His visit to the Turkish capital came as the U.K. and the European Union agreed on a withdrawal agreement, although there are still heated discussions over the impact of Brexiton the former’s future. The senior diplomat said he is not involved in the Brexit negotiations, but stressed “I take an interest in particular issues around European defense and security and how we transition the arrangements we have in the common foreign and security policy into a new world.”
Huge development for the UK
He characterized Brexit as a “huge development” for the U.K. as it leaves the EU after a 40-year-long membership, while also assuring that the U.K. wants to continue to be very close to Europe and the EU over foreign and security policy matters.
“They’re our neighbors. We are not upping anchors and sailing off into the middle of the Atlantic. You know geography speaks and geography binds us into Europe,” he said, recalling they are still in NATO and other European institutions.
“So we’re looking with our EU partners to make sure that we manage our departure in a way that keeps the ties between us really strong. You’re right, NATO, and the core of our defense is NATO, that isn’t changing at all. But we do think it’s a chance for us to refocus on some very traditional relationships we have more broadly. You know the Commonwealth is a very important institution for us. There are 52 countries in it. That community is really important to us and we have a chance to really focus on those,” he said.
‘More of politics of Brexit than about the facts’
Asked about anti-Brexit views that the U.K. would lose its status as a global power once it quits the EU, Moore said “I just don’t see it.”
“Because we remain a permanent member of the U.N. Look at some things that happened in recent weeks. We have led the effort to get the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], the attribution mechanism through. We did it in June, the Russians tried to stop it this time and they got roundly defeated. When we intervene on things, we count. Interpol will have a South Korean head, not a Russian head. So I’m not trying to make that all about Russia, I’m just saying we are very influential. At the moment we are the penholder in the U.N. on Yemen. It’s our foreign secretary who has just been in Saudi Arabia, and the United Emirates, has just been to Tehran, who is trying to pull this all together. So I just don’t recognize that picture. I think it’s more to do with the politics of Brexit than it is about the facts.”
‘We will be in a club of two’
Moore also commented on the future of bilateral ties between Turkey and the U.K., with the former unlikely to join the EU soon and the latter leaving it soon. “On one level, Turkey and the U.K.’s relationship is not defined by our relationship with the EU. We have our own relationship and we’re proud to have it, and I’m always proud that I was ambassador here and the first English ambassador came here in 1583; the first Turkish ambassador went to London in the 1780s,” he said.
“Binali Yıldırım, when he was then prime minister — I know that now he is the speaker of parliament — used to joke, you know, ‘we will be in a club of two,’ and there’s something to that,” the ambassador added.
The relationship between the two countries is incredibly strong and it’s getting stronger, Moore stated, adding, “I’m full of hope for the relationship with Turkey, which makes me very happy, because as you know I love Turkey. I’m fervently, passionately committed to that relationship.”
Talks on free trade deal going on
Turkish and British diplomats are in talks for a bilateral free trade deal and formal negotiations will start as soon as the U.K. leaves the EU end of next March, Moore said, adding, “We can’t put it into effect until we leave properly and sorted out our future relationship with the EU. But both sides, both Ankara and London, understand that and they are working very cooperatively on it and we know how important it is to us. Our bilateral trade is $80 billion and we vary somewhere between your second and third export market. So we have to get this right, and we will.”
‘We understand Turkey’s concerns’
On developments in Syria that often lead to direct disputes between Turkey and the United States over the role of the YPG under the umbrella of the SDF in the fight against ISIL, Moore described the Syrian theater as a very difficult area and the issue caused sensitivity between Ankara and London as well during his tenure in the Turkish capital.
“The most sensitivity of my Turkish friends was the fact that we are working with the SDF against Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIL) in northern Syria. As you know, I’ve always been very open about this; we haven’t pretended that the PYD/YPG is not connected with the PKK. We understand that. And we understand Turkey’s absolute right to protect its security,” he stressed.
“But we had a really important job to do,” he said, “and that was to drive Daesh out of Syria and this is why I’m afraid sometimes countries do look after their national interests. For us, last summer, we had people dying in the streets of London because of Daesh. So we try to be really open and honest with our Turkish friends, but we are there for one reason and one reason only and that is about the counter-Daesh campaign. We hope that before very long that can be brought to a halt because Daesh will be finished in northern Syria and that’s our focus on it.”
‘Turkey was robust on Idlib’
Expressing his admiration over the Turkish diplomacy’s success in averting a major Syrian military operation into Idlib, the ambassador also highlighted the role of France, the U.K. and the United States by making it very clear to the regime that, if they use chemical weapons, they would respond.
“And our analysis was, frankly, that they would not be able to win in there if they might be very tempted to resort to chemical weapons; we said absolutely not. And Turkey was very robust in making clear that they too were going to defend their position in Idlib. So we think that’s good,” he stressed.
UK recognizes coup trauma
Although the senior diplomat is now serving under a different capacity, he is still following the domestic developments in Turkey, especially the shift from the parliamentary system to an executive-presidential model.
“Let me just say something briefly on that. How Turkey decides to run its own affairs and construct its constitutional arrangement is down to Turkey and up to Turks. So, you know, that’s our starting point on this,” the ambassador stated.
Recalling that he lived through the failed coup in July 2016 and the U.K. was the fastest to recognize that it was an attack on Turkey’s democratic institutions, Moore said, “I remember vividly sending a message of support to Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu about midnight, 12:03, I think it was, that night very early on.”
The U.K. recognizes the trauma of that coup and the very difficult situation afterwards, Moore underlined. “But, at the same time, we have always been clear that both in private and in public, that we have been concerned about some of the erosion in the rule of law, some of the issues around freedom of expression and freedom of association, and we have said often to our Turkish friends that we need to see some movement on that side and we’ve seen some good things.”