British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Tuesday he hoped for a “jumbo” free trade deal with Turkey and backed Ankara’s policy on Syria, seeking to bolster ties with the European Union candidate country after Britain’s vote to leave the bloc.
Johnson, on his first official visit to Turkey since becoming foreign secretary, said his hosts had not brought up his winning entry in a “President Tayyip Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition” earlier this year, which involved a goat, wild oats and the Turkish leader.
“What I hope for is a jumbo free trade deal between the United Kingdom and Turkey,” Johnson told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe.”
While Ankara is not a member of the European Union, it aspires to join the bloc and has a customs union with it.
Johnson, the former mayor of London who became the lead campaigner for the pro-Brexit camp, was selected by Prime Minister Theresa May as foreign secretary in July, prompting concern about relations with Ankara.
Two months earlier, his five-line entry won the Spectator magazine’s poetry competition.
A senior Turkish official said at the time Ankara would draw a line under Johnson’s past comments, but said relations would be damaged if he repeated such insults.
“I am delighted to say that it has not come up at all in the very detailed conversations I had,” Johnson said on Tuesday when asked by a reporter about the poem.
“Much to my amazement it has not come up at all. Nobody raised it until you did,” he told the reporter.
Johnson, who is due to meet Erdogan later on Tuesday, had already been on a push to smooth over differences with his hosts. On Monday, he kicked off the visit to Ankara by highlighting his “proud ownership” of a Turkish washing machine.
In return, Turkey’s EU Affairs minister, Omer Celik, hailed Johnson’s Turkish roots, referring to him as an “Ottoman” and a strong supporter of Turkey in the aftermath of its failed July 15 coup.
Johnson’s great-grandfather was an opposition figure in the late Ottoman period and was lynched during Turkey’s War of Independence in the early 1920s.
“This is the land of my fathers, this very ministry is where my relatives used to work,” Johnson told the news conference in Turkey’s foreign ministry. “My uncle Zeki worked here…as did my cousin Selim, so my family has a history in this ministry.”