British Prime Minister Theresa May has travelled to Turkey on a mission to prepare the way for trade deals following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
As Mrs May arrived in Ankara, Downing Street announced that the UK and Turkey have agreed to set up a new joint working group to carry out the groundwork for a deal.
In her one-day visit, Mrs May was set for talks with the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and PM Binali Yildirim.
Mrs May’s arrival, straight from her White House meeting with US president Donald Trump, comes at a tense moment, with Turkey threatening to tear up a migration agreement with EU member Greece because of a row over its refusal to extradite troops allegedly involved in last year’s botched coup.
She is under pressure to confront Mr Erdogan over human rights, following his crackdown on dissent in the wake of the coup, which has seen a wave of arrests, the closure of numerous media outlets and the removal of thousands of public officials – including judges, academics and teachers – from their jobs.
Amnesty International said the human rights situation has “deteriorated markedly” during the state of emergency imposed by Mr Erdogan.
The organisation’s UK director Kate Allen said the visit was a “vital opportunity” for Mrs May to ask “probing questions” about allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment in detention.
Downing Street was unable to confirm whether human rights would be raised during the talks, though aides did not rule it out.
“The Prime Minister’s approach is quite clear – she thinks it’s important, and in the UK’s national interest, to engage with Turkey on a range of issues, from defence and security co-operation to capitalising on trade opportunities,” said a Number 10 source.
“We have already expressed our strong support for Turkey’s democracy and institutions following the coup – but we have also been clear that we urge Turkey to ensure that their response is proportionate, justified and in line with international human rights obligations.”
Number 10 said Mrs May was keen to take advantage of the opportunities for increased trade with Turkey that will become available after Britain’s exit from the EU.
Already, working groups have been set up with around a dozen countries around the globe to pave the way for free trade agreements, though formal negotiations cannot take place until the UK has left the EU.
Mrs May also wants to discuss increased security co-operation particularly in the areas of aviation security and counter-terrorism. She and Mr Erdogan are expected to agree to closer collaboration through a strategic security partnership.