Turkey threatens to end refugee deal in row over EU accession

President Erdoğan issues warning after European parliament vote urging ministers to freeze talks on Turkey joining the EU. Turkey’s president has threatened to tear up a landmark deal to stem the flow of refugees into Europe a day after the European parliament urged governments to freeze EU accession talks with Ankara.

The threat underlines how far relations between Turkey and the European bloc have deteriorated in recent months, particularly after a coup attempt in July.

“If Europe goes too far, we will allow refugees to pass from the border gates,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech on Friday at a women’s rights conference. “Do not forget, the west needs Turkey.”

Erdoğan’s statements, the most direct warning yet that Turkey could abandon the agreement, came in response to a symbolic vote in the European parliament on Thursday that demanded an end to the decade-long accession negotiations.

Turkish officials had said the vote was meaningless but that it raised questions about the entire partnership between their country and the European bloc.

The EU and Turkey negotiated a deal in March of this year that halted the influx of refugees, particularly from Syria, into Europe in exchange for economic aid and a promise to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens within the Schengen zone. The latter clause has not been fulfilled.

But relations collapsed after a failed coup attempt in July. Turkish officials say Europe has failed to show sufficient support in the aftermath of the putsch, and bristle instead at the repeated criticism of a purge of tens of thousands of civil servants, army officers and policemen accused of links to Fethullah Gülen, a US-based preacher whose movement is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated the coup plot.

Brussels has also repeatedly criticised a crackdown in recent weeks on media outlets and Kurdish politicians, saying the campaign raised questions about Turkey’s commitment to EU values. The European parliament’s outgoing president, Martin Schulz, suggested EU leaders could opt for imposing economic sanctions on Turkey.

The furore led to growing talk of a “Trexit” – Erdoğan earlier this month suggested his country could hold a national referendum on whether to continue accession talks by the end of the year or early next year.