Long relations run deep

London and Ankara may be over 2,000 miles apart, on opposite edges of Europe but the relationship between Britain and Turkey extends back over many centuries.

Even in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Turkey was a strategic partner. In 1583 the Queen appointed William Harbourne as Britain’s first ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, after he had negotiated with Sultan Murat III some years earlier, while he was in the pay of the Levant Company, to allow British merchant ships to use the Ottoman ports. British eyes were always on rival French trade and the Spanish-Ottoman relations, both of which were rivals to British interests. Subsequently, the so-called Elizabethan Treaty that framed relations with the Ottoman Empire would stay in place over 300 years. Moreover, when in 1793 it appointed Yusuf Efendi as its ambassador to London, it was the then mighty Ottoman Empire’s first permanent diplomatic appointee in Europe.

Imperial interests

It is worth bearing in mind that the Ottoman Empire was a powerful force to be reckoned with. Having been in existence since 1299 and lasting until 1923, it expanded to control a good deal of South Eastern Europe, North Africa down to the Horn of Africa, Western Asia and the Caucasus. Championing British business in those parts of the world required, at the very least, a well-managed relationship with Ottoman Empire.

As the British Empire grew in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, especially in India, routes to the east, by sea and overland needed careful protection. The concept of The Big Game took political root. It was about protecting of British interests in central Asia against the growing influence of the Russian Empire. Turkey, geographically situated at the fulcrum between the two, was a vital partner for the Brits. And the alliance cut both ways. The British Empire was a significant partner to both the French and Ottomans in the defeat of the Russians in the 1853 to 1856 Crimean War. As Empires - British, French, Russian and Ottoman - waxed and waned, allegiances altered and shifted, however modern day Turkey remains a vital strategic trade and political partner to the east of Europe and at the doors of the Middle East.

Nato and beyond

As a Nato partner of Britain’s, Turkey has the second largest number of active and reserve military forces in the alliance after the USA. Its proximity to the conflict zones in the Middle East has given it a pivotal role. And not only militarily, but on the human level, in the context of the mass flow of refugees from the war in Syria that is happening daily.

On the trade front, UK Trade and Investment reports that following a Strategic Partnership signed between the UK and Turkey in 2010, bilateral trade increased by 69%. Today the trade balance exceeds £10 billion a year, largely in favour of Turkey it has to be said.

The Government department that pilots British overseas trade and investment relations also says that 2,500 UK companies currently operate in Turkey across a variety of sectors including oil and gas, telecoms, engineering, finance and consumer goods. As the 16th largest economy in the world and a rapidly growing one, UK trade with Turkey is expected to continue to increase as the country aims to move up the GDP league table and, perhaps achieve its goal of European Union membership.

The Government department that pilots British overseas trade and investment relations also says that 2,500 UK companies currently operate in Turkey across a variety of sectors including oil and gas, telecoms, engineering, finance and consumer goods. As the 16th largest economy in the world and a rapidly growing one, UK trade with Turkey is expected to continue to increase as the country aims to move up the GDP league table and, perhaps achieve its goal of European Union membership.

Distant as they may be geographically and culturally, the roots of British-Turkish relations are deep and have endured several centuries of change as they have developed to their present level.