UK Foreign Secretary declines to comment on claims of misconduct in last month’s executive presidency referendum
By Michael Daventry
Boris Johnson refused to discuss whether fraud may have played a part in the Turkish referendum last month, when voters narrowly approved plans to grant sweeping powers to President Erdoğan.
The UK Foreign Secretary told Haber newspaper on Tuesday that “it would be wrong of me to get into the domestic politics of Turkey”.
He was speaking during a general election campaign stop in Enfield, north London, which is home to thousands of Turkish and Kurdish-speaking UK citizens.
Official results in Turkey said 51.4% of voters approved the government’s controversial plans to abolish the role of prime minister and transfer a vast range of executive power to the president.
But opposition parties have refused to concede the result, saying many thousands of votes were stolen, and a preliminary report by European election observers said the referendum took place “on an unlevel playing field”.
‘Registered our concerns’
Mr Johnson declined to comment directly on the allegations of fraud.
“We’ve registered our concerns about the points that the OSCE [election observers] has made,” Mr Johnson said.
He added: “it’s very, very important that we don’t push Turkey away. Turkey is a very important country and we’ve got to continue to engage and have very good relations with Turkey.”
Western countries have generally been muted in their response to the 16 April referendum. Senior officials are privately wary of further destabilising Turkey after 240 people were killed when a faction in the military attempted to overthrow the government in a violent and unsuccessful coup last year.
But tens of thousands of people have been detained and arrested in a subsequent state of emergency, raising fears of plummeting civil liberties in the country.
The reforms endorsed in the referendum mean the Turkish president is no longer required to be politically neutral. The post holder assumes powers previously held by the prime minister and cabinet to appoint senior judges, regional governors and party officials.
Take OSCE seriously
In comments to Haber before this newspaper’s interview with Mr Johnson, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “The referendum on 16 April was an important moment for Turkey. Millions of Turks turned out to express their views and clearly it opens the way to significant changes in Turkey’s system of government.
“What’s important now is that Turkey enacts these constitutional changes in a way that sustains democracy, respects the rule of law and protects fundamental freedoms in line with its international commitments.
“We note the OSCE’s concerns about the process and encourage the Turkish government to take them seriously and follow their recommendations as well as relevant international commitments as they implement the constitutional changes.”