INTERVIEW – 'Delighted to be here in Türkiye,' UK's new ambassador to Türkiye tells Anadolu

INTERVIEW – 'Delighted to be here in Türkiye,' UK's new ambassador to Türkiye tells Anadolu

Jill Morris talks Türkiye-UK relations, free trade agreement, Feb. 6 earthquakes and more

By Muhammet Tarhan

ANKARA (AA) – Jill Morris, the UK's new ambassador to Türkiye, in an exclusive interview to Anadolu, talked about bilateral relations, updating the free trade agreement, as well as the devastating Feb. 6 earthquakes that hit southeastern Türkiye and Syria.

Morris is the first female British ambassador to Türkiye, and took charge after presenting her letter of credence to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Question: Welcome to Türkiye. First of all, could you talk about yourself and your immediate experiences in Türkiye? You are the first female appointed as the British ambassador in Ankara. How does this make you feel? How did you feel when you first learned about your Türkiye mission?

Jill Morris: Thank you. I am delighted to be here in Türkiye to work to deepen our excellent relations and the strong links between our two countries.

I was fortunate to visit Türkiye a number of times during my career and developed a fascination for this wonderful country, with its immensely rich history and culture – and, of course, the famous hospitality of the Turkish people. I was deeply honored to be appointed as the British ambassador to Türkiye and given an opportunity to take forward relations with such an important partner for the UK.

I am very proud to be first woman to hold this position, and to arrive in this special year as the Republic of Türkiye marks its Centenary.

Before I came to Türkiye, I was the British ambassador to Italy and to San Marino for five years. I also served as the Europe director in our Foreign Ministry in London. I have long specialized in this region, and look forward to developing the many opportunities to strengthen our partnership not only bilaterally but also at the regional and global level.

Q: As you mentioned, the British government and people mobilized to help the earthquake victims, following the devastating Kahramanmaras-centered earthquakes that occurred on Feb. 6. The Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell also visited the earthquake zone with you. What do you think was the most important reflection of this solidarity on the relations between the two countries?

JM: Firstly, I want to express my condolences again to those who lost their loved ones and those who were injured in this tragic event.

The British government and the British people stood firmly in support of Türkiye and initiated our fastest ever deployment of a UK Search and Rescue Team, of 77 people and four dogs, to help pull people out of the rubble within 72 hours of the earthquakes. The UK also sent a team of medical personnel, who established a field hospital in Turkoglu, and operated mobile clinics in the area, treating over 19,000 patients.

In total, we delivered over 534 tons of humanitarian aid to Türkiye and Syria. We are continuing our support to the international response in Türkiye, working closely with the Turkish authorities and UN agencies.

The British people were deeply affected by the tragic loss of life and their response to the earthquakes demonstrated the strong links and affection between our people. The UK Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC Appeal), which comprises 15 UK aid charities, began a fund-raising campaign, which raised over £100 million ($126.6 million) in just two weeks, which was remarkable.

Our prime minister, Rishi Sunak, joined volunteers at University College London’s Student Union to help students from the Turkish Society pack aid destined for earthquake victims in Türkiye. His Majesty King Charles met with volunteers from the Turkish and Syrian diaspora in London to express his support and condolences. The Prince and Princess of Wales also visited communities raising funds for victims in Türkiye and Syria in our capital.

As you said, our Minister for International Development Andrew Mitchell visited Türkoğlu during the early days of the response. Shortly afterwards, our Europe Minister Leo Docherty also visited Türkiye to express the UK’s solidarity and gain a better understanding of what more we could do to support Türkiye at this time of need.

The UK continues to stand with Türkiye as a key NATO and G20 ally, partner and friend through times good and bad.

Q: The trade volume between the two countries has been increasing in recent years. In this context, is the extension of the Free Trade Agreement and a new trade target expected?

JM: Earlier this month, the UK and Türkiye announced plans to enter into negotiations for an updated Free Trade Agreement. The new FTA is an opportunity to strike a 21st century deal that is better suited to the modern economies of both the UK and Türkiye, covering areas such as digital trade and services. It will build on an already thriving trading relationship, which reached £23.5 billion ($29.7 billion) in 2022 – up more than 30% from the previous year – and support businesses trading and doing business for the benefit of both our countries.

Q: Besides trade, the share of tourism in Türkiye-UK relations is also huge. The summer season is approaching. How many tourists do you expect to come to Türkiye from the UK? Do you think a new record will be broken?

JM: The UK has the third biggest number of visitors to Türkiye. Nearly 2.6 million Britons visited in 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19. Then in 2022, we surpassed pre-pandemic numbers, with 3.8 million British visitors. We are expecting record numbers of Brits to visit Türkiye again this year.

Q: This is start of a new period both in the UK and Turkiye, with coronation of King Charles and re-election of President Erdogan for third term. What do you plan to do to improve Türkiye-UK bilateral relations as we look ahead? What are your goals?

JM: I look forward to building on our already excellent bilateral relations. It has been a busy year already, with a steady rhythm of high level visits between our countries to help further our close cooperation on trade, defense, security, migration, education and wider issues. Last week alone, we welcomed three UK ministers to visit - with programs that included attendance at the 2023 International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF) and the announcement of UK support for a major high speed rail project between Mersin, Adana and Gaziantep.

And we have an exciting agenda for the months ahead. I am looking forward to strengthening our partnership further and to making both our countries safer and more prosperous.

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