Humza Yousaf denies Erdogan invitation linked to escape of wife's family from Gaza

Scottish leader has caused controversy by inviting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf during their meeting at Cop28, in Dubai. EPA
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Humza Yousaf has denied claims that an invitation he extended to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit Scotland was related to the help his wife’s family received from Ankara that enabled them to escape from Gaza.

The invitation has caused controversy in the UK, as it took place during a meeting between the two leaders without a UK Foreign Office official present, which breached protocol. Mr Yousaf and Mr Erdogan also spoke during the Cop28 climate summit in the UAE.

A transcript of the talks showed Mr Yousaf “invited RTE to visit Scotland during a future visit to the UK”.

Mr Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, later attended a summit in Turkey that brought together the spouses of international political leaders, shortly before her sister-in-law and her young children were given sanctuary in Turkey after fleeing Gaza.

A spokesman for the First Minister, speaking to journalists on Thursday, said he did not believe the invitation was “connected” to Turkey granting Ms El-Nakla's family refugee status.

Asked himself whether there was a link, Mr Yousaf replied “No”.

The December meeting with Mr Erdogan drew criticism from within Mr Yousaf's own party at the time, with SNP councillor Roza Salih saying she did not expect this from a First Minister “that says he respects human rights” over Turkey's treatment of Kurds.

Mr Yousaf defended the move, saying both countries were “on a journey” regarding human rights.

Speaking to journalists after First Minister's Questions, Mr Yousaf explained: “I said the next time he's in the United Kingdom, he should come up to Scotland.”

“Turkey is a Nato ally, why would we not wish to have a Nato ally here?”

Asked if he would raise reported human rights abuses committed by Mr Erdogan's administration against the Kurds during any future visit, Mr Yousaf said: “Yes, I would raise human rights as I tend to do whenever I have meetings with international leaders.

Scotland's Humza Yousaf through the years – in pictures

“But I should say, of course, we do that in a way that also recognises that we're on a human rights journey, as are other countries.”

Following Mr Yousaf's meeting with Mr Erdogan – described in minutes released to The Herald, as part of a Freedom of Information request, as “warm and friendly” – the Scottish government was chastised by Foreign Secretary David Cameron due to the lack of a Foreign Office official in attendance.

Lord Cameron went as far as to threaten to withhold co-operation with Scottish ministers who travel abroad, saying: “I remain open to discussing a constructive way forward.

“However, any further breaches of the protocol of ministerial meetings having a FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office] official present will result in no further FCDO facilitation of meetings or logistical support.

“We will also need to consider the presence of Scottish government offices in UK government posts.”

Mr Yousaf said an FCDO official had been at the “vast majority” of meetings he had during the climate summit.

The Humanist Society Scotland hit out at the invitation extended to Mr Erdogan, with chief executive Fraser Sutherland calling it “short-sighted” as Turkey has “seen a sustained attack on civil liberties and human rights”.

A UK government spokesman said: “Foreign affairs is reserved under the Scotland Act and, in such turbulent times, the need for the UK to speak on the world stage with one consistent voice is more important than ever.

“Our embassies and high commissions overseas have a strong track record of working collaboratively with the Scottish government to promote the interests of the whole UK.”

Updated: January 19, 2024, 10:00 AM