UK signs £100m arms deal with Turkey amid human rights concerns

UK PM Theresa May and Turkish President Erdogan

The UK has signed a £100 million arms deal with Turkey, which will see British engineers design and build new fighter jets for Turkey over a period of 20 years.

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday, becoming the first western leader to visit Ankara since the coup attempt on July 15, met and held talks with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and prime minister Binali Yildirim in the Turkish capital.

Following the talks in the presidential palace, the UK’s BAE Systems said it had signed a £100 million deal with Turkey’s national aerospace firm to develop a new generation of Turkish fighter jets, the UK government said in a statement.

Erdogan also said he hoped to boost annual trade with the UK to $20 billion from $15.6 billion – with the fighter jet project being an important step, which comes despite Erdogan’s undertaking of a severe crackdown on his opponents.

The wider program could see the UK provide engines, weapons, radars and sensors to the Turkish military.

The UK’s arms deal comes amid a wave of arrests on elected pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MPs, political critics, the closure of opposition media outlets, journalists and the dismissal of thousands of public officials – including judges, teachers and university academics – from their jobs after the state of emergency declared in the wake of the coup attempt.

Theresa May had been under pressure to raise the issue of human rights, which has severed following the coup attempt, during her Ankara visit.

Speaking in the presidential palace beside Erdogan, May said: “I am proud that the UK stood with you on 15 July last year in defence of your democracy.

“Now it is important that Turkey sustains this democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do.”

Under the “strategic security partnership” between the two countries, who have also agreed to set up a new joint working group to carry out the groundwork for a trade deal when the UK leaves the EU, officials are set to meet every six months.

However, the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, criticised the UK’s decision to seek strong trade links with Turkey.

“There are tens of thousands of people in Turkish jails without fair trial, who in many cases have committed no crime other than daring to disagree with President Erdogan,” he said.

Amnesty International had reported that the human rights situation in Turkey had “deteriorated markedly” since the coup.

Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) called on May to halt the sales of arms to Ankara. “If May is concerned for those being repressed by the Turkish authorities then she must stop the arms sales,” he said.

The sale of arms to Turkey, a major buyer of UK-made weapons, proves hugely controversial. Human Rights Watch said that since the conflict between Ankara and the PKK re-emerged in 2015, there have been “mounting civilian deaths and multiple rights violations.”

Pax, an organisation that campaigns for an end to armed violence, said that arms transfers to Turkey went against the international obligations of EU member states. It said arms sales, “especially to its land and air forces, should be halted until real progress is made towards a political solution with the Kurds.”

Critics accuse the UK of turning a blind-eye to human rights abuses through the pursuance of profits and statistics reveal that the UK has sold almost £50 million worth of arms to Turkey since the crackdown on opposition groups.

(Reporting and writing by Aylina Kilic/Kom News)