Theresa May signs £100 million fighter jet deal with Turkey

Prime minister avoids criticising Donald Trump’s ban on refugees entering the US

British prime minister Theresa May and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

British prime Minister Theresa May signed a £100 million deal with Turkey to develop fighter jets on Saturday.

Ms May also promised to push for more trade between the NATO allies in, while cautioning Ankara on human rights following last year's failed coup.

Ms May, in Turkey after a trip to Washington where she met US 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 Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, Ms May called Turkey one of Britain's oldest friends and briefly touched on human rights, a sore point for Mr Erdogan, who accuses the West of not showing enough solidarity following the July 15th military putsch attempt.

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“I’m proud that the UK stood with you on the 15th 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.

Rights groups and some Western politicians have been more critical. More than 100,000 people have been fired or suspended following the failed coup and some 40,000 jailed pending trial. Ankara says the measures are needed to root out supporters of the putsch.

At a joint news conference later with prime minister Binali Yildirim, Ms May also avoided criticising Mr Trump's sweeping ban on people seeking refuge in the United States, saying Washington was responsible for its policies on refugees.

May has previously said the nature of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States meant the allies could speak frankly to each other when they disagreed.

In her Turkey visit, as in the United States, it was clear Ms May’s priority was on securing trade. She said the UK and Turkey had agreed to form a joint working group for post-Brexit trade and would step up an aviation security programme.

Defence deal

The two countries signed a defence deal worth more than £100 million (€117 million) to develop Turkish fighter jets.

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

Mr Yildirim said the two countries plan to sign a free-trade deal once Britain leaves the European Union, while Mr Erdogan told reporters that he discussed steps towards defence industry cooperation with Ms May, and that he hoped to increase annual trade with Britain to $20 billion from $15.6 billion now.

Ms 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.

Ms 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 number two destination for Turkish exports in 2015, buying $10.6 billion in goods, according to IMF trade data. Only Germany imports more from Turkey.

The countries also discussed the fight against militant groups. Mr Yildirim said he requested legal action against supporters of the coup, who he said are active in Britain.

Reuters