Brexiteers must stop using Turkey as a weapon: There's one very simple reason it will never join the EU

Dakis Hagen
Tensions Grow As Demonstrations Against The Government Continue In Istanbul
Cyprus would never allow Turkey to join the EU (Source: Getty)

Four decades ago, in the summer before Britain's first European referendum, a country, now in the EU, faced the unimaginable terror of full scale military invasion. Operation Attila, as it was chillingly codenamed, saw multiple amphibious landings, a paratroop assault, airstrikes, commando missions, and prisoners of war rounded up and shipped overseas.

By the end of hostilities, up to 6,000 people defending their country were dead; well over a thousand disappeared; a third of the population opposing the invasion were displaced; 40 per cent of national territory was lost. And although unforgivably there were atrocities visited on members of the minority sympathetic to the invasion, there was also terrible suffering by the majority opposing it- as the European Commission on Human Rights has ruled more than once. It was a tragedy for all involved.

The invaded country, now in the EU, is of course Cyprus, a Commonwealth nation that hosts British sovereign bases. The country that invaded it, admittedly only after Cyprus had suffered an Athens-inspired coup, was Turkey - the same state which those who bang the drum for Brexit tell us is "very likely" to become a member of the EU, whereupon it will promptly send 100,000 migrants to Britain every year.

Read more: The definitive guide to the EU referendum

When I first heard this line of argument, I thought it negligible- a half-thought that must have been dreamed up by Team Farage after lunch. Perhaps it was. But it gained traction and surprisingly cut through, and now it crops up in every single debate.

It is still difficult to take the point seriously. Cyprus, a country which Turkey invaded only 42 years ago, has an unqualified right of veto over Turkish accession. Just think about that for a minute. It makes Leave's position that Turkey is "very likely" to join the EU sound as implausible as saying that the Falkland Islanders are "very likely" to choose political union with Argentina.

Their position becomes weaker still when you understand how Cyprus got into the EU in the first place. Accession came in 2004 on the back of a failed UN bid to reunify the Island. The so called "Annan plan", a proposal doomed the second it went soft on Turkey's garrisons in the north, was rejected by more than 75% of Greek Cypriots while 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots voted "yes". The consequence was that the Greek-dominated south acceded alone to the EU, leaving the northern pro-Turkish enclave behind.

It has taken around a decade for another serious Cypriot peace process to get underway, this time admirably led by the Island's domestic leaders. Their aim is to create a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with a single citizenship. Cyprus' official policy, in this context, is that it supports Turkey's "European vocation" (whatever that means) provided that Turkey fully respects and fulfils its obligations towards other EU countries (i.e., Cyprus) - an important proviso. Some think that if this current peace initiative succeeds (and I very much hope that it works), Cyprus might change its mind about blocking Turkey's EU accession. But don't hold your breath.

As pro-Brexit campaigners keep reminding us (particularly the Farage variety), EU membership generally means free movement of persons. To accept free movement from the Turkish mainland into a prosperous federal EU Cyprus with a recognised Turkish zone might eventually compromise Greek demographic dominance in the Republic. Would a majority of Greek Cypriot MPs vote for Turkish EU membership at that price? Possibly but it is naïve to assume that they would be "very likely" to do so.

These substantial obstacles to Turkish EU membership (and others) have been skirted over by the Leave campaign. Their line is that it is "official EU policy" to accelerate Turkish accession. But so what? If at least one member state's government or national parliament doesn't want Turkey to accede, it won't happen. And it's not just Cyprus; France and Germany have both blown hot and cold over the years too.

It is a feature of how bizarre Britain's Brexit debate has become that these features of Eastern Mediterranean geo-politics should loom so large. They shouldn't: Turkey is not a member of the EU; the odds are still heavily against it becoming a member of the EU. Let's put the Turkish non sequitur out of our minds, and vote on 23 June on the issues that really matter to Britain.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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