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Hammond And May Claim There Are No Plans To Give Turkish People Visa-Free Access To UK

Cables leaked to The Sunday Times reveal that British diplomats discussed allowing some Turkish passport holders visa-free travel to the UK.

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The home and foreign secretaries were on Sunday forced to deny claims that some Turkish people will be given visa-free access to the UK, after a series of leaked cables suggested the government was told to consider the plan.

In a joint statement, Theresa May and Philip Hammond said it was "completely untrue" that there were plans to change Turkey's visa arrangements with the UK.

“The government's policy is, and will remain, to maintain current visa requirements for all Turkish nationals wishing to visit the UK, regardless of what arrangements other member states in the Schengen area may make with Turkey.

"Schengen visas do not give anyone the right to access the UK," said Hammond and May, referring to the passport-free area in the EU that the UK is not part of.

The pair added that the documents were "selectively leaked quotes from diplomatic telegrams designed to give a completely false impression".

The cabinet colleagues were responding to five leaked diplomat papers, which revealed that British diplomats have suggested granting visa-free access to the UK to 1.5 million "special passport holders" from Turkey.

So-called "special passports" are largely held by civil servants, their partners, and their unmarried children who are younger than 25.

A senior diplomat advised UK ministers that they should consider extending access to these individuals in response to an EU-backed plan to to let Turkish residents travel visa-free inside the Schengen zone in exchange for its deal to take in more refugees.

“Should [EU] visa liberalisation be granted, we will need to develop our own lines on the UK’s stance to visa-free travel for Turks," wrote Janet Douglas, the deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Ankara, in a 5 May telegram to the foreign office.

“One option would be to assess again the possibility of visa travel for Turkish special passport holders which would be a risk, but a significant and symbolic gesture to Turkey."

The cables, revealed by The Sunday Times, also said that the European Commission has attempted to “avoid major escalation of tensions before the end of June,” suggesting that the EU officials are trying to keep details of the deal concealed before the UK referendum over its membership of the European Union.

Brexit campaigners have pounced on the revelations, accusing the prime minister and the government of deceiving the public.

"These documents show that the government and the European Commission are perpetrating an enormous deceit on the British public – saying one thing in public, but quite another in private," said former welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

"They say nothing is happening about Turkey, but this shows they are already making official plans to allow visa free access for Turkish citizens. The attempt to hide this, and to delay key decisions until after the referendum, is cynical in the extreme."

But speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, David Cameron once again rejected claims that Turkey would become an EU member state soon.

"There is no prospect of Turkey joining the EU for decades... it is not going to happen," the PM said.

He added: "They'll get there in the year 3000."

Vote Leave's chief executive Mathew Elliot said Cameron's claims are the "height of duplicity and are a perfect example of why the public have lost trust in politics."

He said: "David Cameron has said he wants to 'pave the road from Ankara'. He is spending our money on helping Turkey join the EU and now we learn British diplomats are discussing visa-free access for over a million Turks."

Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Siraj Datoo at siraj.datoo@buzzfeed.com.

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