UK PM May Says Britain 'Open for Business' in Turkey Trip

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meets with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, January 28. Umit Bektas/Reuters

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday signed a $125 million defense equipment deal with Turkey and promised to push for more trade between the NATO allies, but cautioned Ankara on human rights following last year's failed coup.

May, in Turkey after a trip to Washington where she met U.S. President Donald Trump, visited both countries for the first time as prime minister, promoting trade agreements to strengthen her hand in negotiations to leave the European Union.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Ankara alongside President Tayyip Erdogan, May called Turkey one of Britain's oldest friends and briefly touched on human rights, a sore point for Erdogan, who accuses the West of not showing enough solidarity following the July 15 military putsch attempt.

"I'm proud that the UK stood with you on the 15 July last year in defence of democracy and now it is important that Turkey sustains that democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do," she said.

More than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended following the failed coup and some 40,000 jailed pending trial. The scope of the crackdown has worried rights groups and some of Turkey's Western allies, but Ankara says the moves are necessary to root out supporters of the attempted putsch.

May said the two countries had agreed to form a joint working group for post-Brexit trade and would step up an aviation security program.

The two countries signed a defence deal worth more than 100 million pounds ($125 million) on Saturday to develop Turkish fighter jets.


May hailed the deal, which involves BAE Systems and TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries) working together to develop the TF-X Turkish fighter program, saying it showed "that Britain is a great, global, trading nation and that we are open for business."

Erdogan told reporters that he discussed steps toward defence industry cooperation with May, and that he hoped to increase annual trade with Britain to $20 billion from $15.6 billion now.

May's government is keen to start laying the groundwork for bilateral trade agreements for when Britain leaves the European Union—a process that will take at least two years after triggering the formal divorce talks by the end of March.

May's spokeswoman has said Turkey would be the 13th country to set up a working group on trade with Britain.

The United Kingdom was the second-largest destination for Turkish exports in 2015, buying $10.6 billion in goods, according to IMF trade data. Only Germany imports more from Turkey.