By Michael Sercan Daventry
LONDON (AA) – A deal to grant Turkish citizens visa-free access to the EU’s Schengen zone is being used to call for Brexit, even though the agreement would not apply to the U.K.
With a little over five weeks remaining until British citizens vote on whether their country should continue to be a European Union member, Turkey appears to be part of the strategy for campaigners wanting the U.K. to leave.
The argument was used on Monday by a former spy.
Richard Dearlove, who was chief of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6 between 1999 and 2004, compared the visa-free deal on Monday to “storing gasoline next to the fire”.
The following morning, the Daily Telegraph newspaper – under the front-page headline “Visa-free Turkey ‘terror threat’” – quoted a European Commission report as saying the deal would allow more criminals and terror suspects into Europe.
And pro-Brexit campaigners have for weeks been distributing a map of Europe featuring large arrows protruding from Turkey, extending across the continent towards the U.K.
The message behind the graphic, distributed on flyers and social media, is clear: there will be an exodus if Turkey is granted visa-free access.
For Meral Hussein-Ece, a Turkish Cypriot member of the House of Lords, the Brexit campaign is resorting to messages of fear.
“I think this discussion really is playing on people's fears, and if I may say so it's the Brexit people who are now turning to the politics of fear instead of sticking or even bringing forward the economic arguments, the other arguments.
“The debate has moved over now to ‘the Turks are coming’, and this is playing on people's fears,” Hussein-Ece told BBC radio Tuesday morning.
Earlier in May, the European Commission proposed visa-free Schengen zone travel for Turks as part of a deal which would see Turkey stem the refugee flow to Europe in exchange for speeding up the candidate country’s EU membership.
However, among five remaining benchmarks for Turkey to address in order to receive visa-free travel, the EU has called for changes to Ankara's legislation on terrorism, a demand criticized and rejected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Even if the deal was confirmed, the U.K. would be kept outside of it because it is not part of the EU’s Schengen zone.
Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph article, which appears on the daily’s front page and does not name the specific European Commission report it cites, is a further example of the role Turkey appears to be playing in the referendum campaign.
“It can be expected that, as soon as Turkish citizens will obtain visa-free entry to the EU, foreign nationals will start trying to obtain Turkish passports in order to pretend to be Turkish citizens and enter the EU visa free, or use the identities of Turkish citizens, or to obtain by fraud the Turkish citizenship,” the newspaper quote the report as saying.
“This possibility may attract not only irregular migrants, but also criminals or terrorists.”
Dearlove, the former spy chief, was speaking at a panel event organized by the BBC on Monday when he attacked the proposed deal.
“For the EU … to offer visa-free access to 75 million Turks to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean seems perverse, like storing gasoline next to the fire we’re trying to extinguish, though for the moment the exodus has slowed,” he said.
Hussein-Ece said Dearlove was offering no solution at all to the Syrian crisis.
“In fact, he said the opposite,” she said, continuing: “But then he goes on to say … using appalling language, that somehow Turks - and there will be the prosperous Turks, the ones who want to do business, who want to travel, who want to go on travel, [and] not live there - somehow they are the problem. Now this is the politics of fear,” she said.
And she pointed to Dearlove’s role as head of Britain’s spy network in 2003, when the U.K. went to war in Iraq on the basis of intelligence that suggested the Saddam Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.
It subsequently emerged the intelligence was flawed and the weapons did not exist.
“Coming from someone who advised the government on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq some years ago I think we have to take it [Dearlove’s comment on Turkey] with a big pinch of salt,” Hussein-Ece said.