One of the curious things about Byzantium, the Royal Academy exhibition, is that it ends with great abruptness, somewhere around the 15th century, without dwelling on what actually happened to finish off the empire. Perhaps it was thought tactful not to go on about it, but Byzantium fell with the Turks' capture of Constantinople in 1453. I mention this only because with that victory we get the basis of Turkey's claim for membership of the European Union, for which Britain is cheerleader-in-chief. Indeed, it was during Britain's otherwise undistinguished EU presidency that Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, managed to get its candidacy finally, officially, recognised. Since then, David Miliband, the current Foreign Secretary, has confirmed that "the project of an outward-looking EU needs, as a clear goal, the inclusion of Turkey as a full and equal member".
What's not to like? Let me spell it out. Three per cent of Turkey's territory is actually in Europe, the last little rump of the European territories of the Ottoman Empire. And if three per cent of its territory is European the remaining 97 per cent is - that's right! - in Asia. What are we doing, then, working to get an overwhelmingly Asian country to join the EU? Granted, there are several institutions with "Euro" in the title that assorted nationalities have joined - Israel's participation in the Eurovision song contest, say. Then there's Turkey's own membership of the Council of Europe. But they don't give every citizen of the country in question the right to live and work here. EU membership does. The assumption that Turkey's application for EU membership is self-evidently desirable is shared by an extraordinarily wide range of the people and institutions who run Britain. It's shared by the Daily Telegraph, the Independent, the Tablet, the Financial Times and the BBC, as well as Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone. It's a scary consensus that can only last so long as it doesn't actually dawn on the electorate what Turkish membership involves - an EU bordering on Iraq and Syria, and the freedom of more than 71 million people and rising to live and work anywhere in the EU.