Election ’17: Penny Mordaunt’s Turkish Tall Story

Poet and photographer Richard Williams is not a member of any political party and has no axe to grind. However, he would like our politicians to act with integrity and to know what they are talking about. Penny Mordaunt, incumbent MP for Portsmouth North, slipped below such standards during the EU referendum’s Leave campaign.

It took me less than a minute. A quick search on Google to find the European Commission website on EU Enlargement.

Despite the EU’s (often justified) reputation for obtuseness and over-complexity, the language used is clear. Every current EU member state has a veto on the accession of any new EU member. Not only this, but they have a veto on the negotiation of every one of the 35 policy areas that the country looking to join has to progress through before the final accession treaty can be put to each member state.

The following is lifted directly from the EU website:

Concluding the negotiations

1. Closing the chapters (‘chapters’ are policy areas , of which there are 35 in total)

No negotiations on any individual chapter are closed until every EU government is satisfied with the candidate’s progress in that policy field, as analysed by the Commission.

And the whole negotiation process is only concluded definitively once every chapter has been closed.

2. Accession treaty

This is the document that cements the country’s membership of the EU. It contains the detailed terms and conditions of membership, all transitional arrangements and deadlines, as well as details of financial arrangements and any safeguard clauses.

It is not final and binding until it:

– wins the support of the EU Council, the Commission, and the European Parliament
– is signed by the candidate country and representatives of all existing EU countries
– is ratified by the candidate country and every individual EU country, according to their constitutional rules (parliamentary vote, referendum, etc.).

So, if I could find this information so easily, why couldn’t my MP, Penny Mordaunt, do the same before making her claim last year that Turkey was about to join the EU, and there was nothing Britain could do about it?

Her claim was picked up by the mainstream press. On the same day the Daily Express (who perhaps unsurprisingly also failed to check for the truth) led with ‘”Turkish Migrants to CRIPPLE the NHS” Brexit minister’s stark WARNING.’

The Daily Mail ran with the following: ‘Penny Mordaunt said it is “very likely” Turkey will join the EU within the next eight years and claimed Britain doesn’t have a veto to stop it joining. This would make the UK vulnerable to millions of terrorists, gangsters and 12 million more guns if we stay in the EU, pointing to higher murder and kidnapping rates and gun ownership in Turkey and the other four countries currently applying to join the Brussels club.’

Mordaunt was condemned by Remain politicians such as David Cameron, who implied she was lying. Others took her comments as part of a ‘borderline racist’ Leave campaign, and many were quick to highlight, as I have above, the facts. Highlighting the inaccuracy of Mordaunt’s claim even spawned its own irreverent Twitter campaign, #MordauntFacts.

Somehow Mordaunt kept her job and the row around it soon became yesterday’s news, whilst the Leave campaign continued to push the line that Turkey were joining with an inflammatory poster (see featured image, above).

However, if you read the status reports on Turkey’s application (even before Erdogan’s actions after the attempted coup), you will see that, of the 35 policy areas, only one (for scientific research) had been closed – all of the others are either in negotiation, or at a stage where negotiation has not even started. 8 of these areas were being held up by Turkey’s refusal to accept the Ankara Protocol over Cyprus.

There are huge objections from other EU members aside from Cyprus and Greece, such as the increasingly right-wing governments of Eastern Europe, all of whom, remember, have a veto on each policy area, and any final accession. Turkey applied to join the EU (or rather the EEC at the time) in 1987, but even the most cursory glance at the documents clearly show that there is no way that Turkey is going to join the EU any time soon.

How influential was this claim by Mordaunt, in terms of Brexit?

I have no idea, but I suspect it was not hugely significant. However, for me this isn’t really about Brexit.

Whatever your views on the referendum result, Mordaunt made a highly contentious claim on mainstream TV, one which a couple of minutes of basic research proves to be utterly false. She has not corrected herself or apologised in any way.

As to the reasons for her original comments and subsequent lack of retraction, I guess we’ll have to draw our own conclusions.

Graphic: Vote Leave.