Inadequate funding of the Foreign Office could lead to the UK missing out on the opportunities for a closer relationship with Turkey after Brexit, according to a cross-party report by MPs.
Poor analysis and weaker understanding of Turkey in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could hinder the UK’s efforts to look for trade deals outside the EU, the foreign affairs committee said.
The foreign affairs committee said: “The inadequate funding provided to the FCO has led to a worrying weakening of its independent analytical capacity, and may jeopardize the UK’s ability to seize on the opportunities presented by Brexit.”
Turkey is the 18th largest economy in the world, according to the World Bank, with a GDP of more than $700bn (£560bn). Its relatively large population could make it an increasingly important trading partner as it develops.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently agreed a £100m security deal with Turkey, which is also a crucial partner in the EU’s efforts to stem the flow of refugees from neighbouring Syria.
However, the country has suffered a difficult year, with the economy contracting in the third quarter of 2016 by 2.7 per cent, after a failed coup attempt sparked economic chaos.
The coup was used by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a pretext for a purge of perceived political opponents. Meanwhile, inflation has soared to an annual rate of more than 10 per cent in February.
Erdogan sought to tighten his grip on the country, with Turks next month due to vote in a referendum which will see the President given executive powers. A commission for the Council of Europe warned the country is on the road to “autocracy” under Erdogan.
The committee’s report said Britain’s rush to pursue a strong trade and security relationship with Turkey risks undermining the drive for human rights to be recognised in the country.
It said: “The UK risks being perceived as de-prioritising its concern for human rights in its drive to establish a ‘strategic’ relationship with Turkey.”
The report added: “Our impression has been of two countries that share interests more than they share values.”
Erdogan’s response to the coup was disproportionate and the number of people arrested “extraordinary”, the committee said, leaving Turkish democracy “under severe pressure.”
The committee recommended the UK use its increasing trade heft to push for better recognition of human rights.