In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Minister for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, said: “A stable Turkey is essential for wider stability in the region.”
Underlining that the coup attempt took place on his first day at the U.K. Foreign Office as minister, Duncan said he had told the then British foreign secretary and the prime minister that “this is very important, we have got to understand this, I am going to go there.”
The July 15 defeated coup, led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gulen and his terrorist organization -- Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) -- left 248 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
The minister said: “And for the U.K., Turkey really matters and it was our view that we have got to understand how serious and dangerous this coup attempt was.
“This was a very dangerous and difficult moment for the whole of Turkey.
“So I am very pleased that United Kingdom very clearly expressed its empathy with and the understanding of the coup attempt and that’s why I visited three times, foreign secretary has been, prime minister has been.
“Because I think a stable Turkey is essential for wider stability in the region, Turkey -- just looking at Turkey as Turkey -- has to be a functioning democracy.”
About who he thought was behind the coup bid, Duncan said: “We don’t know all the details of who is behind this but we have some suspicions. Turkey has got to work it out for themselves.
“So we’d obviously urge the government to make sure that if you are locking people up or being tough on them, you are getting the right people, there must be justice and the rule of law but at the same time I think the U.K. and probably only the U.K. has properly expressed its understanding of what this was really all about.”
Europe ‘slow to react’
About the reaction from other European countries on the foiled coup, he said: “I think the rest of Europe was very slow to appreciate that this was a deep traumatic experience for the whole country, and that it was wrong.
“If you look at the coup attempt and also the other terrorist threats that Turkey faces where 500 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in the last year.
“I think instead of sitting in a comfortable armchair, lecturing Turkey, it is better to understand what they are up against and work with the country to make sure that they could be stable, democratic and very powerful and important force in the region.”
Bilateral ties to grow
About relations between Turkey and the U.K., Duncan said he expected them to grow further.
“I think the main thing is there will be a bilateral relation between Turkey and the U.K. and this is demonstrated in the interest we have shown in Turkey by massive tourist numbers, by growing business activity, by the defense manufacturing deal which we have signed when the prime minister visited [Turkey]. And that is going to grow,” he said.
EU, Brexit and Turkey
About the positions of his country and Turkey in terms of the European Union, Duncan said the U.K. does not see any hindrances for further cooperation.
“Of course, there is this slightly contradictory position where we are leaving the European Union and maybe eventually Turkey will join it but that will not get in the way of our interest in and cooperation with Turkey,” he said.
“We of course will remain part of the EU until the day we actually leave and of course if Turkey is to join the EU, it has to be a principally a EU process with all of the elements needed to join agreed between the EU and Turkey and if that happens that’s fine,” he added.
Duncan further said anyone who had interests in the region could not ignore Turkey.
“I think as trade, as tourism, as having a like-minded view on security in the region against terrorist threats and instability in Syria and around about, so I think if anyone who wants to take an interest in the region of the eastern Mediterranean, cannot ignore Turkey.
“You have got to work with Turkey and so as I think it’s been demonstrated by Prime Minister Theresa May and Turkey has a very, very high priority for us and for me personally,” he said.
About the Brexit process, he emphasized that the U.K. is only leaving the 28-member bloc but not Europe itself.
“People voted to leave the European Union … we are leaving this political club, we are not leaving Europe. If you look at the map, we are going to be in the same place,” he said.
Duncan said the U.K. will continue to cooperate with Europe but also they want to look at the whole world.
“We are a global Britain… this [Brexit] is not Britain getting more smaller and isolated; it is Britain being independent and different,” he said.
He added: “Britain is a strong and proud parliamentary democracy and we think that we elect our government and if we don’t like it we choose another one.
“Although we like cooperating with other countries, we don’t like being governed by them.”
The minister also said the EU membership meant different thing to different countries and “it is entirely up to Turkey if it is in their interest or not.
“My recommendation to Turkey would be to stick with the discussions, keep going, stay engaged and in the end the possibility probably will arise for EU and Turkey and… then it is your national choice.”
Duncan became the first European minister to visit Turkey on July 21, 2016, following the defeated coup. He also visited Turkey in October 2016 and January 2017.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also visited Turkey on Sept. 27, 2016, before Prime Minister Theresa May’s January visit.