British diplomats secretly discussed granting visa-free travel to the UK for more than 1m Turks, according to leaked diplomatic cables seen by The Sunday Times.
The cache of five documents also suggests that EU officials are attempting to keep any visa deal with Turkey under wraps until after the referendum on June 23.
According to the telegrams, senior diplomats have advised ministers that the proposed EU deal with Turkey on visa-free travel within the Schengen area could lead the UK to consider extending the same privilege to up to 1.5m “special passport holders” from Turkey.
“Visa travel [to the UK] for Turkish special passport holders . . . would be a risk, but a significant and symbolic gesture to Turkey,” wrote Janet Douglas, the deputy head of mission in Ankara. Failure to secure the EU deal on Turkish visa-free travel could prompt the government in Ankara to “open the floodgates” to millions more migrants currently held in Turkish camps, she warned.
According to the documents, the European Commission has tried to “avoid major escalation of tensions” with Turkey “before the end of June” so the issue could be kept “under control” — by implication before the referendum.
This revelation prompted the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith to accuse David Cameron of being “in cahoots” with the commission to perpetuate “an appalling deceit” on the British public.
He said: “While the prime minister and the government have been denying any kind of deals with Turkey, this is absolute proof that behind the scenes they are already planning to bring the Turks in.
“The government is clearly working with the EU to keep a lid on it until after the referendum when all the decisions will surface too late.”
Downing Street said last night it was “untrue” that Britain plans to grant Turkish passport holders visa-free travel to the UK. The diplomatic papers show, however, that such a proposal — which would go much further than ministers have admitted — has already been raised.
... In a telegram to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on May 5, Douglas wrote: “Should [EU] visa liberalisation be granted, we will need to develop our own lines on the UK’s stance to visa-free travel for Turks.
“One option would be to assess again the possibility of visa travel for Turkish special passport holders which would be a risk, but a significant and symbolic gesture to Turkey.”
Without the EU deal on visa liberalisation, however, she warned that “an impetuous and riled Erdogan — prone to come out fighting when he feels betrayed — could carry through his threat to ‘open the floodgates’ to Europe for migrants”.
Special passports are supposed to be for Turkish government officials, civil servants, teachers and their families. But up to 1.5m Turks are understood to hold one. Until a rule change in 2009, they could travel to the UK without a visa.
Another telegram from diplomats in Berlin on May 13 reveals the lengths to which officials in Brussels have gone to keep a Turkish migration deal on ice until after the referendum.
Nick Pickard, the deputy head of mission in Germany, reported on Erdogan’s desire for both “EU accession and visa liberalisation”. He said that Uwe Corsepius, Europe adviser to the German chancellor Angela Merkel , “was confident that the commission, for their part, would avoid major escalation of tensions before the end of June”, quoting him as saying: “We can keep this under control.”
The leaked telegrams also reveal that Theresa May, the home secretary, has been warned by Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, that increasing migration could raise the terrorist threat.
On May 20 the UK mission in Brussels sent a memo on a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers that says: “Europol . . . confirmed there was some emerging analysis linking migration with terrorism — for example, the false Syrian passports provided to the Paris bombers came from the same source as used by other smuggling networks.”
Taken together the documents show that the Foreign Office is encouraging other EU countries to grant Turkey visa-free travel to Schengen. In her two telegrams, Douglas says Britain offered “to pledge a carrot of continued UK practical support” to Turkey’s border force and added: “We might usefully ensure member states realise the implications in migration terms of snubbing Turkey on visa liberalisation.”
She said Britain was viewed by the Turks “as an exception” to the “sceptical approach” of other EU governments.Source