A significant issue, of course, in the run-up to the U.K.’s EU referendum is the prospect of Turkey joining the EU. This would be of concern to many voters, not only because Turkey is an Islamic state, but also because its relative poverty, compared with the UK, and its very substantial population. The principle of free movement of people is absolutely fundamental to the EU, and so the prospect of many tens of millions of Turkish people having the absolute right to move to the UK is, for many voters, and alarming one. Personally, I have found the Turks that I have met in the UK, and who I now occasionally meet on the international stage, absolutely charming, and I would not myself put this issue centre stage. There is no denying, however, that it is a political “hot potato”, and the Prime Minister David Cameron steamed in, claiming that one of his own ministers, Penny Mordaunt, was “absolutely wrong” on the topic. She is alleged to have said on the Andrew Marr Show that the UK would have no veto on Turkey joining the EU.
So I decided to look up the transcript. There was initially a somewhat vague reference to the point, but then it was clarified as follows:
AM: I just want to return to this business because I’m pretty sure that we do have a veto over stopping Turkey joining if we want to. Are you sure that we don’t?
PM: Well, we haven’t – I think with the current situation, the migrant crisis and other issues that are going on in Europe at the moment that we will be unable to stop Turkey joining.
AM: You think we’d just be bullied into it?
PM: And I think the British public – this is a matter for the British people I think to decide and the only shot that they will get at expressing a view on this is in this referendum.
AM: But if we don’t want Turkey in, we can stop Turkey from coming in?
PM: I don’t think that the UK will be able to stop Turkey joining.
So here is the question. Was Penny Mordaunt asserting that there was no right of veto, or merely that it was unlikely that it could be used, in practice, to prevent Turkey from joining?
It is not entirely clear. In one breath, she was saying that the UK does not have a veto, that in the next breath was apparently agreeing with Andrew Marr that the UK would be bullied off the veto, such that the only practical way to prevent all Turkish citizens from having the right to move to the UK is for the UK now to vote in the referendum to leave the EU.
She may well be right about that, in the sense that there is clearly an impetus within the EU for Turkey to join, and if the UK votes to remain in the EU, and if David Cameron remains as Prime Minister, then the UK will have pretty much committed itself not to veto Turkey’s membership. In 2010, David Cameron said:
“I’m here to make the case for Turkey’s membership of the EU. And to fight for it.”
And in 2014
In terms of Turkish membership of the EU, I very much support that…That’s a longstanding position of British foreign policy which I support. We discussed that again in our talks today.
And as Lord Owen has recently pointed out:
Only nine weeks ago David Cameron committed the country at the European council to re-energise the accession process of Turkey into the EU. The EU is continuing the preparatory work for Turkey at an accelerating pace with all of this going forward in parallel.
In the light of all of this, and conceding that Penny Mordaunt did not express herself as clearly as she might have done, it rather appears that she was not “absolutely wrong” in what she said, but may well be substantially correct.
In going on television, and accusing his own Defence Minister of lying, David Cameron has done neither himself, nor the Remain cause any favours.
The battle lines between the Remanians and the Brexiters have not formed along party political lines, but rather – with some notable exceptions – between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. It is hardly surprisingly that those who have already settled comfortably into the European nest are content for the status quo to remain, whereas those on the receiving end of the EU’s policies are more likely to want to stop the rot. As a “have”, it would be well for David Cameron to show some courtesy.
I might well be wrong – the polls are too close to call – but it is perfectly possible that Penny Mordaunt will be in the Cabinet in 6 months’ time, and that David Cameron will not.