LibLink: Sarah Olney: Theresa May’s visit to Turkey betrays our liberal values

Fresh from her meeting in Washington with a man who has extolled the effectiveness of torture, admitted sexually assaulting women and who thinks building walls between nations is a good idea, our Prime Minister heads today to meet the leader of a so-called democracy where human rights mean nothing and journalists are imprisoned.

Sarah Olney has written a blistering article in the Guardian, attacking the PM for betraying our liberal values instead of safeguarding our trading relationship with the democracies on our doorstep.

This tawdry tour shames Britain. This is a defining period on the international stage and we must consider to what extent this new course is safeguarding both our interests and values around the world.

In an age of “alternative facts”, there is no doubt about the realities of the Erdoğan regime. Even before last July’s failed coup, Erdoğan had begun systematically dismantling Turkey’s democratic institutions. Since the coup, he has embraced full-frontal authoritarianism. He is not only locking up journalists, but teachers, professors and policemen – all without due process. Not quite the outfit you’d have in mind for a regime described yesterday as an “indispensable partner” by Theresa May.

>Indeed, turn the clock back eight months and our now foreign secretary was slating the Turkish president. Yet Boris Johnson has fallen unusually silent – refusing to call Erdoğan out on his shocking crimes. There is a pattern here: ministers pursuing business deals on the international stage at odds with Britain’s best traditions and values.

The Tories are ignoring breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen for an arms and trade deal with Saudi Arabia. May is cosying up to an American president who not so long ago she was criticising for his anti-Muslim diatribes. Far from defending liberal values, the Conservatives are happy to sell them to the highest bidder, or indeed any bidder.

Her analysis of the government is spot on.

This is not a strong, confident government, it is a shifty, grubby regime, tin-eared to the views of our friends and brainwashed by the Ukip world view. Is this really what people imagined of life outside the EU? Whether you were leave or remain, it should be deeply troubling to see ministers pursue a strategy both damaging to our economic interests and undermining of our best and most cherished values.

That is why Liberal Democrats will not simply fall behind the government in pursuing a hard Brexit. Unlike Labour, we will vote against article 50 if the people are not given a say on the final deal. Nor will we turn our backs on our friends in Europe at the expense of strongmen with weak principles around the world.

She concludes with a call for all those who believe in liberal, progressive values to rally to protect them.

You can read her whole article here.

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  • Quite. May’s visit to Turkey has made me ashamed to be British. Does the woman hold any values at all? I’m pleased that at least someone has taken the time to decry May’s abhorrent diplomatic visit to a fascist regime that she clearly sees as some kind of ally.

  • Dear Sarah,
    Post ‘Brexit’ who can we trade with? China? whose human rights are, if anything, worse than Turkey’s…India? where misogyny is, if anything, getting worse…The world is full of regimes/leaders who we would not invite to dinner but whose trade we need…Every time you fill up your car you are ‘supporting’ trade with an undemocratic regime….
    Nations of whom we approve (Australia, New Zealand, Canada) are just not enough…

    Lord Palmerston’s, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”

  • David Evershed 28th Jan '17 - 12:17pm

    Sarah Olney seems to think we should not talk with governments and people we disagree with. And that if you do talk with them you are cosying up to them.

    How illiberal and immature is Sarah Olney’s approach?

  • “How illiberal and immature is Sarah Olney’s approach?”

    It appears to be quite incredibly mature, actually. However, your approach…

  • Am I understanding this right here? A member of the party criticising another member of the party for standing up for human rights an liberal values? It’s a funny old world…

  • Caron, why not stand up to China, India, etc. by not visiting them?

    Anyway, isn’t Erdoğan ‘on our side’ in Syria? The UK, and especially LibDem, policy seeks to get rid of Assad; that, too, is Erdoğan’s stated aim…
    Churchill was more than pragmatic in allying the UK with Stalin (whom he despised)…

  • @expats, I know things are grim, but we aren’t at war yet.

    I don’t think there is any suggestion that the UK should ignore all regimes where they don’t match up to 100% of our values, but it is more than reasonable to draw attention to the recent increase in serious problems in Turkey lately. It is appropriate for us to ask questions of our Prime Minister in advance of her visit, which if she is serious about having a quiet word (as some allege), gives her a stronger hand.

    I see in the comments section that there’s a predictable amount of whataboutery, relating to Trump or Saudi Arabia, but Turkey has flown under the radar some-what lately. Yes, many aspects of countries like China are much worse, but Turkey is supposed to be a democracy, and so should be much more receptive to either our approval or disapproval.

    The UK should not ignore all of these breaches of human rights, and the LibDems most definitely cannot afford to do so if it wishes to maintain any credibility. This does not require a blanket ban on all trade or negotiations with those countries, but the inability to do that does not mean that doing nothing is the only ‘non-hypocritical’ option.

    We do what we can, where we can, and shining a spotlight on the serious problems in Turkey is a good thing. The fact the article is in The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section means it will probably only be read by people who already agree, or who have clicked on the link just to complain, is another matter. However, I am pleased to see the article has had a lot of comments, because the purpose of those articles is to get people talking, and increases the odds of Sarah being invited back to write another piece.

    If you don’t believe Sarah, try reading the Turkey page from the Amnesty website.

    The situation in Turkey isn’t irrevocable, but the longer it goes on, the longer it is allowed to go on, the harder it will be to get the country back on an even keel, and the more people will be harmed.

    This doesn’t need to exclude a trade deal, but any trade deal should be negotiated with a view to applying pressure to improve their situation.

  • nigel hunter 28th Jan '17 - 1:02pm

    As Churchill did .We sometimes have to make pacts with the devil or devils. However this is the position that the referendum has put us in. Whilst May and the rest are running around chasing their tales for trade deals because of the huge economic hole leaving the EU , we must stay strong in our liberal beliefs.

  • Turkey is a member of NATO and therefore is in fact an ally of Britain and a large number of other members of the E.U. I’m not following the outrage here all governments talk to various unpleasant regimes. The leaders of France and Italy have not always been role models of respect to women

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Jan '17 - 1:26pm

    Sarah Olney is an excellent new mp. She is correct on the detail here.

    We must be sensible and moral in foreign or domestic policy. Too little of the former gives no substance to the latter.

    Trump is someone we must talk to but to hold hands with him literally is absolutely absurd. That much is not May’s fault , he must have led it.

    There lies the problem. It is Trump that is leading , some following , others ostracising.

    We were never poodles of any US president. But we were sometimes its rather large and trusted family dog!

    We must not be that to any country or leader, whether with our closest allies amongst democracies. Or with our dubious non democratic or pseudo democratic fellow embers of the wider international community.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Jan '17 - 1:28pm

    Embers, should read ,members, a Freudian slip ?!

  • Nick Cunningham 28th Jan '17 - 1:34pm

    Would May be flying around the world to the likes of Erdogan’s and Trump if the she wasn’t so desperate for any headlines that could be spun to make Brexit look like a success in waiting, very doubtful indeed. Erdogan human rights record is just appalling, his amendments to Turkey’s constitution is about what one thing only, personal power and the removing of any inkling of opposition, this from a Country who calls it’s self democratic. Yes, the world is full of unsavoury and unappealing leaders and nations like China, whose human rights record is up there with the worst. But do we really have to be so willing to give credence to such nations and give them the credibility they so seek.

  • According to the German media Mrs Merkel’s team have been meeting with Trump’s people for nearly two years. Since he became President they have let it be known that she would fly out at short notice to meet him, but so far there hasn’t been an answer from Trump. Turkey is a very important NATO member who have various trade and other agreements with the EU. Why is there little – if any – criticism of Merkel or the EU, but the British PM is constantly being attacked by the Lib Dems. I don’t like Trump or Erdogan, but when the UK and the EU are both doing the same thing at least be even handed.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Jan '17 - 3:06pm

    Obviously if you voted Leave you will take a different approach from Sarah Olney and view May’s visit to Turkey as entirely appropriate in seeking new trade deals. However, the Foreign Secretary was trying to scare people during the Referendum campaign by telling them that Turkey was joining the EU and we’d be inundated with migrants from that country. That is why May going cap in hand to Turkey must be highlighted.
    I also appreciate Sarah talking about the values of a Britain I want to belong to, which values tolerance and kindness. We have to put the emotional case for our support of the EU and I’m glad Sarah has the political and personal maturity to do this.

  • Post ‘Brexit’ who can we trade with?

    Within the last 12 months there was a BBC debate program on Sunday morning where one of the topics of the day was to what degree can we criticise China’s human rights violations when they are currently the 2nd/3rd biggest economy in the world and soon will be the biggest by a large margin. I wonder how many soon will be missing the comparatively clean record of the EU when the “cost” was largely freedom of movement?

    Isn’t it a strange moment when Turkey joining the EU was such an argument to vote leave and now Brexit means we’re getting a lot closer to Turkey than we would have otherwise been.

    It’s not a choice between morals or trade but following the example of Merkel and Sturgeon and making it clear that the UK is keen to build relations but won’t compromise on human rights and expects those we speak to to follow the same path.

  • DJ

    “It’s not a choice between morals or trade but following the example of Merkel”

    Merkel is currently talking to China about a possible trade deal, she has asked President Trump if she can visit him, but has had no reply – according to the German media – and the EU already has a trade deal with Turkey. What is Mrs May doing that is so different from Mrs Merkel? Do America, China and Turkey have a better human rights record when they talk to Mrs Merkel than when they talk to Mrs May?

  • Peter Watson 28th Jan '17 - 7:10pm

    I’m a bit confused by the Lib Dem position here, particularly Sarah Olney’s linking of this to Brexit.
    Even as members of the EU, the UK already trades with Turkey and in October 2012 Nick Clegg led a trade mission to Turkey to increase this (and he described Turkey’s membership of the EU as a “strategic necessity”). British people holiday in Turkey every year. Do Lib Dems oppose all this? Is there a list of countries that Lib Dems believe we should boycott for trade and tourism because of their poor human rights record?
    I’m all for opportunistic attacks on the Tory government, but I can’t quite see Sarah Olney’s point here.

  • Peter, if you read the page on the Amnesty website I linked to earlier, it should help to explain the problems with Turkey. In particular, many of its problems are recent, and things have gone steeply downhill since Clegg visited in 2012.

    Turkey is strategically important for Europe from a security point of view, so it is important that it’s close neighbours and the EU maintain good ties. Turkey will hopefully get its act together, and obviously countries geographically close to it won’t want to stop trading with it in the meantime. The UK only needs to chase deals with Turkey because we’re annoying all of those other trading partners that are currently more convenient.

    I’d say it’s up to individuals if they want to go on holiday to a place with a dubious record on human rights, and that locks up its journalists, but it would put me off. I can’t believe that’s controversial.

    But as it happens, May was going there to announce a deal to sell fighter jets to Turkey!

  • Sarah may be morally right – but she walked straight into a bear trap with Iain Dale about a Nick Clegg similar visit a few years ago.

    I don’t blame Sarah for this – she’s still learning the job – but it’s clearly bad briefing and staff work by what is supposed to be an experienced HQ staff who failed to pick up the bear trap. It’s also a reminder of the Coalition legacy that still haunts us.

  • @David Raw,

    I can’t believe I’m defending Clegg here, but, his visit to Turkey was in 2012 (I presume that’s what you’re referring to). May’s visit is today, in the midst of a brutal crackdown on civil liberties with thousands imprisoned without trial and removed from their jobs. There is a vast difference in the scale of what we know to be Erdogan’s behaviour back in 2012 and what he has done over the last year.

  • John Samuel 28th Jan '17 - 9:28pm

    Having turned our back on 27 democracies we need to find some barrel bottoms to scrape.

  • Fiona 28th Jan ’17 – 1:00pm…@expats, I know things are grim, but we aren’t at war yet….

    The why are we dropping bombs in Syria? We must be at war with someone…Turkey is, as has been said,a fellow member of NATO and, considering May’s meeting with Trump, his stance on NATO affects Turkey more than most…
    Some posters seem to believe that May will greet Erdoğan like a long lost brother; I doubt that but Sarah Olney’s ‘outrage’ seems rather misplaced when on refugees, Assad, ISIS and NATO we have much common ground…May’s visit ( BTW I’m no fan of May) and her. “Now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations” is a far more mature approach than Sarah’s…

  • Just listened to the Sarah Olnay interview with Ian Dale that David Raw refers to:

    She had a very difficult time.

  • Peter Watson 28th Jan '17 - 9:47pm

    @Fiona “as it happens, May was going there to announce a deal to sell fighter jets to Turkey!”
    A deal which has been struck while we are still members of the EU!
    It is the linking of all this to Brexit which I think weakens Sarah Olney’s argument. It makes it sound like she thinks it is okay to trade with illiberal regimes if we are inside the EU but not if we are outside it.
    There is an argument that being part of the EU gives us more power to influence the behaviour of our trading partners and persuade them to become more liberal, but sadly Turkey would be a poor example to support this if “things have gone steeply downhill since Clegg visited in 2012”.

  • Angry Steve “I can’t believe I’m defending Clegg here, but, his visit to Turkey was in 2012 (I presume that’s what you’re referring to).”

    I know that. You miss the point. Sarah Olney was thrown because she hadn’t been briefed and had no answer prepared for the obvious. Listen to the interview on LBC.

    Erdogan had also been Prime Minister for several years in 2012 and although things have got worse since then, he was no shining light of liberalism even in those days.

  • Peter Watson 29th Jan '17 - 8:31pm

    @David Raw “You miss the point. Sarah Olney was thrown because she hadn’t been briefed and had no answer prepared for the obvious.”
    Indeed. It only takes a moment to Google “Lib Dem Turkey” and find a reference to Nick Clegg 😉

  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '17 - 3:20pm

    The Times of 10/4/2017 reports that election observers from the OSCE are criticising the conduct of Turkeys’ current election, a referendum on Presidential powers, page 11 columns 1,2,3,4,5.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '17 - 3:24pm

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