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A Message from the British Ambassador to Turkey – Sir Dominick Chilcott

“We have been cultivating a high degree of confidence in one another as friends and allies”

The annual Farnborough Air Show is a highlight on the defence industry calendar. This year, as in previous years, leading British and Turkish defence industry representatives will be attending. I wish them all well and hope Farnborough brings good business. 

Defence cooperation between the UK and Turkey is a key component of our bilateral relations. It is an area where both governments believe there exists a great deal of potential. Both of us wish to see our defence industries develop their cooperation and joint ventures further still. 

Close defence relations require a high degree of trust between governments and businesses. After all, the defence of one’s country is the first duty of any government and procuring the means to do this is existentially important. 

I’m pleased that relations between Turkey and Britain have grown from strength to strength in recent years. We have been cultivating a high degree of confidence in one another as friends and allies.  That confidence provides a basis for our present day, productive defence relations and will help to realise our hopes in this sector for the future.

One project deserves a special mention: TAI’s partnership with BAE Systems to build the 5th generation indigenous fighter jet TF-X.  This is a highly ambitious undertaking. But the benefits from designing and making the TF-X fighter for both Turkey and Britain are enormous. No other project would allow us both to develop such technological know-how. There would be no better way for us to build and maintain a position as a world leader in such a very high-end industrial sector.  

If TF-X promises to catapult Turkey into the first division of technology driven countries, the UK, almost uniquely in the world, has the political will and the capability to collaborate with Turkey on all aspects of the development of the programme. 

All the equipment and technology required for building the TF-X fighter, as set out in the specifications document, can be exported under an existing open general export licence; i.e. no further export licences will be needed for the transfer of individual pieces of equipment or technology from the UK to Turkey. And once the aircraft has been built and is available for export from Turkey, there is no further UK control over those exports. That will be a matter exclusively for the Turkish government.  

The next step in the project is the ‘down selection’ of the companies to build the aircraft’s engine. Naturally, I hope that a decision will be made soon in favour of Kale and their UK partner, Rolls Royce. There is no more prestigious name in aircraft engine design and manufacture than Rolls Royce.  And it goes without saying that choosing a British company for the engine will further strengthen bilateral cooperation, including government to government cooperation, between our nations. 

There are still some challenges to overcome before this exciting vision for a high technology, high value, fully exportable partnership in defence can be fully realised.  But I am hopeful that the very strong political will on both sides to see TF-X succeed will allow discussions to come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion soon.

British-Turkish defence cooperation, of course, takes place in a much wider international context.  Turkey is an important NATO ally, with the second largest armed forces in the Alliance.  Through the North Atlantic treaty, we regard an attack against one ally as an attack against all allies. So we are each committed to come to the other’s defence. This principle of collective defence lies at the heart of NATO. It binds the allies together, generating a strong sense of solidarity. 

Ever since its membership in 1952, Turkey has been one of the most important contributors to Europe’s defence and security.  Its role in the Cold War, on the front line of NATO with a border with our potential adversary, the Soviet Union, was immense. We must never forget the quiet determination of Turkey to stand tall against our common Cold War foe during those years of great uncertainty.

We shouldn’t forget that today Turkey sits at the frontline of many of the big challenges the UK and indeed Europe face. Turkey is the last stable democracy before, heading south, one confronts the horrors of the civil war in Syria and the wider instability and uncertainty in Iraq, Iran and points further East. 

Just as she did during the Cold War, Turkey is playing a huge role in protecting the security of European countries against today’s threats. Our cooperation against terrorism is vitally important. For example, we have been able significantly to reduce the number of UK-linked extremists reaching Iraq and Syria through Turkey – thanks to information-sharing and ongoing Turkish action to identify and disrupt travellers. 

More widely, European countries have proscribed the PKK and are increasingly effective at restricting its illegal activities on their soil. For its part, Turkey is a leading member of the international alliance against Daesh. 

Turkey’s generosity in providing a safe haven for the 3.5 million Syrian refugees and a further 500,000 refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is an extraordinary act of solidarity towards the people concerned. It is also of immense benefit to Europe where, as we have seen, uncontrolled mass migration all too easily unsettles public opinion and governments. 

Turkey and Britain are more than just NATO allies and strong bilateral partners, important though both those are. We are also both members of the G20, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe.  The G20 was the most important organisation in coordinating the world’s response to the economic crisis of 2008. It retains a leading position in global economic governance. It is a validation of President Erdogan’s vision of international relations – the world is indeed much bigger than five.  

The commercial relationship between Turkey and the UK is strong and goes well beyond our respective defence sectors. Our bilateral trade has grown by over 50% since 2009 and is now worth some $20 billion each year. The balance of trade is in Turkey’s favour to such an extent that the UK has become Turkey’s second biggest export market. Britain is also the second largest net investor in Turkey. We hope to continue to grow the volume of the overall trade between us while, at the same time, persuading Turkish businesses and consumers to buy more British goods and services! 

Outside the defence sector, UK companies are engaging Turkish counterparts on satellite systems and services, financial services, nuclear energy and healthcare (both on PPP health campuses and services to support the Turkish health system) – to name but four sectors.  The UK’s offer on financial services remains second to none. Nuclear and renewable energy are sectors where the UK has useful experience to share with Turkey and where Turkey’s planned investments offer the chance for valuable collaboration. Major UK investors are actively exploring important investments in the Turkish energy sector.  

In addition to our current strong bilateral commercial links, we are working to promote collaboration in future between British and Turkish businesses in third markets, with a particular focus on Africa and the Middle East. We bring complementary skills and knowledge in these two regions. Working together should generate new opportunities for Turkish and British companies. 

I often get asked about Brexit and what this means for the UK/Turkey relationship.  I can say with confidence that Brexit won’t change the size and strategic importance of our commercial relationship with Turkey. Exactly what the terms of trade will be between us depends, in the first place, on the outcome of the negotiations between the UK and the EU. It seems highly likely, however, that one of the first Free Trade Agreements the UK will negotiate with a third country will be with Turkey. 

Work is already underway to prepare the ground for our commercial life after Brexit. We have established a Joint Trade Working Group, where officials are considering how to draw up a FTA , once our negotiations with the EU allow us to establish such an agreement.  The discussions so far have been positive and productive, demonstrating the shared commitment of both our countries towards an enduring and expanding commercial partnership. 

All in all, I am very pleased by the commitment of the business sectors in both countries to continue to strengthen our partnership, mirroring the political commitment of the two governments. 

The many British and Turkish companies talking to one another at the Farnborough Air Show is testament to the fast-paced development of cooperation between our defence industries. I wish them – and indeed all those engaged in UK-Turkish trade – the very best of good fortune.