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BGIPU hosts timely visit from Grand National Assembly of Turkey

From 30th October to 3rd November, BGIPU hosted a high-level delegation from the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The delegation was led by Mr Hayati Yazici from the AK Party, Chairman of the Turkey-UK Interparliamentary Friendship Group, a former Deputy Prime Minister as well as a former Minister for Trade. He was joined by three other members of the AK Party, Mr Abdulkadir Akgül, Ms Sena Nur Çelik and Mr Ziya Altunyaldiz, and two opposition members, Mr Kamil Aydin from the MHP and Mr Kamil Sindir from the CHP. A representative from the Turkish Embassy accompanied the group during most of the meetings.

The programme started on Monday morning with the traditional welcome by Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, the Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP, in Westminster Hall. This was followed by an introduction to the Westminster System by the Clerk of the Overseas Office, Matthew Hamlyn, and Welcome Lunch hosted by BGIPU Chair Nigel Evans MP. In the afternoon the delegation received a warm welcome at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office by the Minister for Europe, Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP, who knows Turkey quite well, a fact not missed by the delegation. After a brief tour of the building the Minister held a meeting with them in his office and set out UK support for Turkey, pointing to his five visits to the country since the attempted coup in 2016 and highlighting the depth and breadth of UK-Turkish relations. Other issues that were discussed included Turkey’s EU accession aspirations and the UK’s BREXIT process, as well as a desire to increase trade between the two countries and enhancing defence cooperation. The Minister urged the delegation to ensure that human rights and the rule of law were at the heart of government’s policies and encouraged Turkey to cement its place as a key regional leader. The day finished with a well-attended reception at the Turkish Embassy on the occasion of the Turkish National Day, celebrating the 94th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey.

On Tuesday morning the delegation was given a tour of both Houses of Parliament by Fabian Hamilton MP, also a long-standing friend of Turkey. They were subsequently hosted by the Minister of State for Trade Policy Rt Hon. Greg Hands MP, who discussed current and future trade opportunities between the two countries in light of the UK leaving the European Union with them. At the working lunch former Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Crispin Blunt MP, shared some of the observations he made on a committee visit earlier in 2017, supported by Rt Hon Ann Clwyd MP. The delegation voiced their objections to some of the conclusions the subsequently published report drew, and the discussion continued during a meeting with current Foreign Affairs Select Committee Members Ian Murray MP (who had also participated in the visit to Turkey) and Stephen Gethins MP. Slightly interrupted by a series of votes, the afternoon in Parliament concluded with a meeting with Defence Select Committee Member Graham Jones MP, before the delegation was hosted for a reception by Lord Dykes and Baroness Hooper CMG in the Garrick Club.

The third day in Parliament started with a big roundtable in the IPU Room chaired by Turkey APPG Chair Mark Pritchard MP and attended by Members from both Houses. Topics discussed included the bilateral relationship in the context of Brexit, but also human rights concerns, the fight against terrorism and regional relations. The delegation then enjoyed watching Prime Ministers Questions from the Speaker’s Gallery, followed by a lunch hosted by Baroness Barker. While the leader of the delegation, Mr Akgül and Mr Altunyaldiz had to return to Ankara, the rest of the delegation made their way to Edinburgh, where they received a warm welcome by the Turkish community and local representatives at a reception hosted by the Consul-General.

Thursday was spent in the Scottish Parliament, where the delegation learnt about the different electoral system and the principles of the devolved legislative process. After having attended PMQs in Westminster, they had a chance to compare it to First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, which they found thoroughly enjoyable. During a working lunch the delegation also had a chance to ask members of the Scottish Parliament more detailed questions on their work as an MSP, but also about Scottish Affairs and relations with Westminster. This continued in the evening when they were hosted by Liam McArthur MSP, who also explained how MSPs as regional parliamentarians maintain an international network.

The last day focussed on education, with an insightful visit to the University of Edinburgh, where the delegation was hosted by Professor Newman and Dr Goerke at the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. As both Mr Sindir and Mr Aydin are professors themselves, they felt very much at home talking about the curriculum, student profiles and challenges modern Universities face. They left with a promise to work towards closer cooperation between Edinburgh and Turkish Universities, as Professor Newman said he hoped to eventually offer a degree including Turkish Studies in Edinburgh. The programme concluded with a lunch that gave the delegation a chance to reflect on the week and the ways in which they will follow-up their visit once back in Turkey.