It’s a target-right topic field today.
I can start with Penny Mordaunt, the armed forces minister. In arguing on the Andrew Marr show yesterday for the UK to leave the EU, she insisted three times that Britain does not have a veto over Turkey joining the EU. She said this referendum was the British people’s last chance to ‘have a say on this.’
And it really didn’t sound like a lie, it sounded even worse: like ignorance.
After her first mistake, which, given the lack of fluency in her interview up to that point, Marr could have put down to nervous confusion, he suggested to her she’d got that wrong-- he corrected her, and he was right: ‘The British government does have a veto on Turkey joining, so we don't have to let them join.’
But Mordaunt kept digging herself further into the hole: ‘No, it doesn't. We are not going to be able to have a say.’
A liar would have tried to oil her way out of the lie, once she was caught. Mordaunt didn’t because she wasn’t lying. She really thought she was right when she insisted Britain had no veto over the accession of new member states.
Richard North has the full exchange over on EU Referendum. He places Mordaunt’s ignorance in the list of other ignorant statements coming out of the Leave campaign.
But I want to touch on another mistake the minister made.
And, as in so many of these Leave campaign car-crash mistakes, right up until the last minute the politician could have saved it, could have swerved out of that death curve, straightened up her facts and zoomed over the finish line.
But Mordaunt didn’t.
The correct answer to Marr’s point that ‘the British government’ – like every other member state – ‘does have a veto on Turkey joining’ was to say: ‘Our veto over Turkey’s accession to the EU does exist in theory, Andrew, but the United States will never allow Britain to use it.’
‘Therefore’ – and here is where Mordaunt could have spoken her next line with accuracy instead of ignorance – ‘we are not going to be able to have a say.’
The United States has been determined to tie Turkey to Europe—for which read the American-led Western military alliance – since the end of the Second World War. The US poured millions of dollars into Turkey in the Marshall Plan. There was the 1948 Cold War extension of the Truman Doctrine to guarantee the security of Turkey. America ensured Turkey’s place in Nato in 1952.
But the US developed a belt-and-braces policy on tying Turkey to the American-led West: in 1963 Asia Minor was also to be put on the road to membership of what was then the European Economic Community.
Note the timing: in 1961, the US deployed Jupiter medium-range ballistic missiles in Turkey, on the southwest flank of the USSR. In 1962, the Soviet Union retaliated by putting medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Florida.
The crisis was resolved when both countries agreed to withdraw their missiles. The following year, Turkey became an associate member of the EEC.
The importance of Turkey to the US military strategy has not changed over the intervening half-century. President Obama, to whom David Cameron thinks Britain should listen in the matter of the EU, told an EU-US summit in Prague in 2009 that pushing forward with Turkish membership would ‘ensure we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe.’
Turkey knows just how much America wants it in the EU, and it has leveraged this power before.
In 2009 Turkey opposed Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the new secretary-general of Nato. Ankara only allowed Rasmussen to go forward once the EU agreed to re-open two areas of negotiation on EU accession that had been frozen.
Turkey plays for Turkey, it doesn’t play for the team.
If Turkey's path to EU membership – guaranteed and encouraged by Britain more than any other EU country, including by David Cameron up until a few months ago when the issue of accession became tangled up in the referendum campaign – is vetoed by Britain, President Erdogan need only announce that, since clearly his country is not considered good enough to be a European country, he will withdraw from the European end of the North Atlantic alliance.
He will, in short, announce that Turkey is withdrawing from Nato.
Ten seconds after Erdogan has issued the threat, the White House will be making it clear to Number 10, whoever is prime minister then, that the British must withdraw their veto.
If instead it is one of the Eastern European countries such as Poland which vetoes Turkish membership, the White House will tell the Eastern European countries that the American troops newly moved to forward Nato positions will be withdrawn and Poland and its anti-Turkish Eastern European friends can deal with Putin on their own.
And such American pressure would go on, putting the screws on any EU member state that might veto Turkish accession.
The end result is this: every EU member has a veto over Turkish accession and no EU member state is able to use it.
Mordaunt should have said that, because in her ignorance she stumbled onto the truth: this referendum will indeed be the last time the British have the chance to have a say on being in a political and economic union with Turkey.
But Mordaunt didn’t say that. Just as she was too ignorant to know when she was wrong, she was too ignorant to know when she was right.