The British government has refused to join its allies in halting arms sales to Turkey over the country’s military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria.
EU foreign ministers unanimously agreed on Monday to “condemn” Turkey’s military action, arguing that it “seriously undermines the stability and the security of the whole region” and was harming civilians.
But the bloc stopped short of agreeing to an EU-wide arms embargo against Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, instead issuing a relatively toothless pledge for “strong” arms export control on a country-by-country basis.
A number of major European powers have unilaterally pledged to halt arms sales to Mr Erdogan’s government, including Germany, France and Finland.
But the UK, one of the world’s largest arms exporters, is notably absent from the list, and raised further eyebrows by initially arguing against condemning Turkey during a Monday meeting of foreign ministers to draw up a common EU position.
Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, was absent from the foreign affairs council meeting in Luxembourg, and was stood in for by his deputy Andrew Murrison.
British MEPs condemned the UK refusal to join its allies in halting arms sales. Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling said there were “increasing numbers of national bans”, asking “Why isn’t UK on this list?”.
Liberal Democrat MEP Irina Von Wiese, a member of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee told The Independent: “The UK is increasingly out of step with the rest of the EU. Instead of trying to weaken a strong EU response to Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria and murderous attack on the Kurds, UK ministers should be implementing a ban on arms exports and condemning Turkey’s actions, which risk reviving Isis and rewarding Russia.”
In an agreed joint statement, EU foreign ministers said: “The EU recalls the decision taken by some member states to immediately halt arms exports licensing to Turkey.
“Member states commit to strong national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey on the basis of the provision of the common position 2008/944/CFSP on arms export control, including the strict application of criteria 4 on regional stability.
“The relevant council working group will meet later this week to coordinate and review the Member states’ positions on this matter.”
They said Turkey’s military action was “resulting in more civilians suffering and further displacement and severely hindering access to humanitarian assistance”.
The statement continued: “It makes the prospects for the UN-led political process to achieve peace in Syria far more difficult. It also significantly undermines the progress achieved so far by the Global Coalition to defeat Daesh, stressing that Daesh remains a threat to European security as well as Turkey’s, regional and international security.”
Turkey launched military operations in northern Syria on Wednesday after the US announced it was withdrawing its forces from the area, where they had previously been assisting Kurdish forces in the fight against Isis.
Initial reports from observers suggest civilians have been killed in the attacks, including children.
Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish groups as a threat because of their links with Kurdish separatists in eastern Turkey. The autonomous region in Syria has enjoyed relative stability with a multi-ethnic government, and its leaders accuse Turkey of trying to ethnically cleanse the area of Kurds.
The Independent has contacted the Department for International Trade, which approves arms export licences, for comment.
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