ISTANBUL, July 14 – Turkey will draw a line under disparaging comments by Britain’s new foreign secretary Boris Johnson about President Tayyip Erdogan and his nation, a senior official said on Thursday, but warned relations would be damaged if he repeated such insults.
Johnson, the former London mayor who was appointed foreign secretary late on Wednesday by new Prime Minister Theresa May, won a “President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition” run by Britain’s Spectator magazine earlier this year.
He was the most prominent figure in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, which played on voters’ fears about immigration. This included a warning of dire consequences if Turkey, a largely Muslim nation of 79 million, joined the EU. The campaign culminated in a vote for ‘Brexit’ on June 23.
“His negative comments on Erdogan and Turkey are unacceptable … However we’re sure of one thing, that British-Turkish relations are more important than that and can’t be hostage to these statements,” the Turkish official said.
“With his new responsibilities we are expecting a more positive attitude from Mr. Johnson,” said the official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Turkey’s leaders have repeatedly warned about rising xenophobia and anti-immigrant views in Europe. They complained that the British referendum campaign was marred by anti-Turkish sentiment fuelled by mainstream politicians.
The pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper described Johnson as known for “his anti-Turkey and eurosceptic stance as the mayor of London” and said his appointment “raises questions about the future of Britain’s international relations”.
Other mainstream newspapers talked about Johnson’s Turkish roots but made no mention of his poem about Erdogan. Johnson’s great-grandfather was an opposition figure in the late Ottoman period, who was lynched during Turkey’s War of Independence in the early 1920s.
Speaking ahead of Johnson’s appointment, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also signalled his government would be ready to work with the former London mayor.
“What would I say to him? Well, may God help him and reform him and I hope that he won’t make any more mistakes and try to make it up with the Turks,” Yildirim said in an interview with the BBC recorded at the weekend and broadcast on Thursday.
“But the campaign is over, the referendum was held and there’s no reason to discuss this anymore.”
Turkey began its EU accession talks in 2005 after decades of knocking on the door but progress has been slow due to disagreements over Ankara’s human rights record, Cyprus and other issues. It is not seen joining the bloc for many years.
Despite the referendum campaign rhetoric Britain was for a long time one of the main champions of Turkey’s EU bid.