Turkey warns of rising European xenophobia after Brexit vote

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Europe’s politicians are failing to combat rising xenophobia and anti-immigrant views, Turkish officials said on Friday, after Britain’s vote to exit the European Union deprived Turkey of what had been a major backer in its quest for EU membership.

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The Brexit campaign and the rise of Europe’s populist right have cast further doubt over Turkey’s decade-long accession negotiations, a process which was in its early years an anchor for economic and social reforms in the country.

“The fragmentation of the EU has started. Britain was the first to abandon ship,” Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli wrote on Twitter.

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said the British campaign had been marred by Islamophobia and anti-Turkish sentiment fuelled by mainstream politicians.

The “Out” campaign played on voters’ fears about immigration by warning of dire consequences if Turkey, a largely Muslim nation of 79 million, joined the EU. Ankara was particularly angered by the response of Prime Minister David Cameron, once a staunch advocate of Turkish accession to the EU, who joked that it would not happen until the year 3000.

“This has been a worrying process ... in which mainstream politicians relied on the far right’s rhetoric too much,” Celik told a news conference.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but has made scant progress despite an initial burst of reforms. Many EU states are not eager to see such a large, mostly Muslim country as a member, and are concerned that Ankara’s record on basic freedoms has gone into reverse in recent years.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the EU needed to reflect carefully on the British vote and to embrace more inclusive policies. His foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the EU’s enlargement and integration policies had been a failure.

But trade ties are likely to remain strong between Turkey and both Britain and the EU.

Britain was Turkey’s second-biggest market in 2015, with $10.5 billion worth of exports and total trade volume of $16 billion. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said Turkey would continue to take steps to maintain and strengthen investment, foreign trade and financial relations with Britain.

Additional reporting by Seda Sezer; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Richard Balmforth