By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
Thousands of Turkish people living in Britain on a permit created by a special 1963 treaty are being told their situation will be “business as usual” during Brexit.
However, the U.K.’s moves to leave the EU are throwing up complex legal questions which could affect thousands of Turkish people living in Britain.
Turkey’s ambassador to the U.K., Abdurrahman Bilgic, told Anadolu Agency those citizens living in Britain on a business document linked to the September 1963 Ankara Agreement would not see a change in their status while the U.K. negotiates its departure from the European Union.
Under the free-visa scheme, Turkish citizens are entitled to set up a business in the U.K. and live in the country with no further requirements.
It has been a very popular initiative, with up to 20,000 Turks now living in the U.K. under the Ankara Agreement.
However, Bilgic pointed out the Ankara Agreement was not a bilateral U.K./Turkey deal.
“Once the U.K. officially exits from the EU, it will not be a party to the Agreement, just like all the other agreements that the UK is a party to owing to her EU membership,” he said.
Bilgic said the Turkish government was “well aware of the concerns” among its citizens living in the U.K. after the Brexit vote and said regular meetings were being held with Home Office officials.
As Brexit is now expected to start with the U.K. government triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to initiate formal negotiations to leave the 28-member bloc, it is not only EU citizens who are waiting for a clear answer from the authorities about what will happen to their rights.
Turkish citizen Sinan Yildirim from the Black Sea city of Trabzon is one of the thousands of Turks now unsure about his future in the U.K.
Sinan is a builder who has lived in the U.K. for the past five years after obtaining a permit thanks to the Ankara Agreement.
“I have no idea what will happen to us living here on the Ankara Agreement visa after Brexit,” he says.
“I don’t think there will be a backwards step for those who have the visa on the agreement because I know that their gained rights will not be reversed,” he added.
But Sinan, like many others, wants more clarity.
“We would like to see things get clearer soon because we do not wish to see any suffering and this is very important for our trade,” he told Anadolu Agency.
However, not everyone is confident about the future.
A Turkish international law consultant, Hakan Camuz, thought Brexit “would mean an end to a legal agreement between two countries and therefore it will end the possibility of Turkish nationals’ right to get leave, unless both parties make a separate agreement.”
However, he found the recent visit by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to Turkey and the countries’ general relationship “encouraging”, making a separate deal more likely upon “the initiative of both governments”.
Lawyer, Yasar Dogan, thought “it is very early and limited information is available to make conclusive comments as to the precise impact of Brexit on Turkish citizens who would like to rely on the Ankara Agreement”.
“Much of the political discussions have focused on European Union citizens and thus far nothing has been said about Turkish citizens,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Dogan said: “It is worth noting here that Brexit is not an easy process ... it will have an impact on the Ankara Agreement too, as it is considered European Union law.
“The government plans to make all European Union laws part of domestic law by an Act of Parliament and the unwanted laws will subsequently be selected and abolished in due course. This might mean that the Ankara Agreement will be enforceable as domestic law for years to come following Brexit unless … it will be specifically selected for abolition in the future.”
“Given the many more-central issues surrounding Brexit, it might take decades for the Ankara Agreement to be picked on,” Dogan added.
Future bilateral deal
However, Ambassador Bilgic said he had been reassured by British officials that there would be no change in the short-term.
Bilgic said: “Our counterparts underlined that until the U.K. officially leaves the EU, business will be as usual.
“All the applications under the Ankara Agreement will be processed as they are normally. The British officials also stressed that there will not be a slowdown during this process.”
However, Bilgic also signaled a possible bilateral agreement between Turkey and the U.K.
“Our governments have already begun working on future arrangements aiming at regulating post-Brexit relations so that free trade and investment continue uninterrupted,” he said.
Yasar Dogan also said a new arrangement could be reached in the future between the countries, but it may not be as straightforward as the opportunities provided by the current Ankara Agreement.
“Turkey and the United Kingdom have maintained close relationships and I personally expect a special arrangement for the free movement and establishment of Turkish citizens, at least those who would like to work in the United Kingdom as self-employed persons,” he said.
“However, if such a deal is entered into, I do not expect the new deal to be as flexible as the Ankara Agreement. I would expect that the United Kingdom would want to introduce a minimum investment threshold of around £50,000, and a requirement for Turkish applicants to have a reasonable command of the English language,” he added.