Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the likelihood of a solution to the situation in Cyprus before the end of 2016.
My Lords, once again, after two years, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate the Cyprus issue on the Floor of the House. Before I start, I have apologies from the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Sharkey and Lord Maginnis, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for being unable to participate in the debate. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, informed me that she had to be abroad in Paris, but I know that my noble friend Lady Goldie will be a more than capable replacement.
First, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus—TRNC. During my visit there in July, I met in particular the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, so I had a good opportunity to form a judgment on how the peace talks are going. Sadly, I came away with the impression—I hope that I will be proved wrong—that major problems still remain which will prevent any settlement before the end of 2016, and may well make a settlement in 2017 speculative. The one important hope is that the good personal relationship between the two Presidents will finally achieve a result and prove me wrong.
I think it is useful to start with my July meetings. First, I saw President Akinci. He began with these opening remarks:
“I tell you very frankly that this is the last chance of our generation for a settlement”.
He then went on to discuss the major issues, which he set out as bizonality, political equality—although he did not say what this meant except in terms of a right to citizenship of essentially one Turkish Cypriot for four Greek Cypriots—and the need for security guarantees. Importantly, he said that the discussions had to be completed by the end of 2016 because, first, there will be a change of Secretary-General at the UN next year, which will cause delay as the new person will have to get to grips with the issue. Secondly, there will be a new US Administration with the same delay arising. Thirdly, there will be a new Greek Cypriot Administration in 2018, but the parties will start preparing for that in 2017. Fourthly, there will be the complications arising from the prospect of international companies drilling for natural gas in 2017 in the eastern Mediterranean, especially if Greek Cyprus starts doing separate deals with them.
In summing up, the President said, “But we have difficulties”. He cited, as a small example, the failure of two confidence-building measures: first, the reluctance of the Greek side to accept help without strings attached in the recent serious forest fire in the south; and, secondly, the unfriendly behaviour of the Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades in refusing to attend the Turkish President’s dinner, to which TRNC President Akinci had also been invited, on the outline of the UN humanitarian summit. To the outsider, these two examples may seem quite trivial but, as mood music, they are a good indicator of the suspicious atmosphere still prevailing on the Greek side in particular. At the end of the meeting the President took a sideswipe at the UK and said that, throughout the time from 1963, we as guarantor power “just watched”. I will come on to this area with questions to the Minister later.
The meeting with the TRNC Foreign Minister was different in tone and much more pessimistic. He essentially did not believe that there would be any solution, and when asked whether there was a plan B, said that five or six plans came to mind but he was not prepared to discuss them at this stage. He also had a swipe at the UK, saying that we did not wish to offend the Greek side due to our fear of losing our sovereign Army bases in the Greek part of the island. On that topic, will the Minister say whether we are planning to cede part or all our bases there if there is a successful settlement? On the plus side of the detail of the peace talks, the Foreign Minister said that there had been good progress in four areas—the economy, the EU, property and governance and power-sharing. The most sensitive issues of territorial adjustment and security guarantees were being left to the end.
Reflecting on my visit, there seems to have been little progress since then. Time has moved on and at the end of October the sensitive issues remain the same. When both sides met at the UN in September, it had been hoped that the UN would be able to announce a multiparty conference to discuss security guarantees. However, President Anastasiades refused to accept this. Furthermore, he refused to agree to any future timetable for the talks. All that could subsequently be agreed to, according to President Anastasiades, is that there could be talks away from the island, in Switzerland, to discuss territorial issues in the first half of November—another example of timetable slippage. The UN special adviser, Espen Eide, has today said that the talks would provide clarity on whether a peace accord can be reached this year.
I myself received a sharp reminder of hostility from the Greek side when I received a letter from the consul-general in London at the Cyprus High Commission, Ioannis Koukoularides. He strongly criticised my July visit to Northern Cyprus. I wrote back that if he had read my speech in the debate of July 2014, he would have understood that I am anxious to see a solution to the Cyprus issue without taking sides between the north and the south. I added that, in that spirit, I went there to see how the peace process was going, and to listen and try to offer advice where appropriate from a neutral basis. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, the chairman of our group, subsequently wrote a letter to the high commissioner in London and I quote one particularly relevant part of it:
“It is not normally helpful for diplomats to write to parliamentarians in such strident and intemperate terms. It is particularly unhelpful when negotiations for a settlement are at such an advanced and sensitive stage”.
Does the Minister agree with him on this?
I now move on to the question of the UK’s role in helping the peace talks. I know what the Minister will say: that the UK cannot get involved in any details of the talks; that it is up to the Turkish and Greek sides to make their own agreement; that as long as our two military bases are secure, we do not need to get involved until the very end stages. Having considered this attitude carefully, I believe that it is wrong. There is a great opportunity to demonstrate that we can have some impact on the world stage behind the scenes by encouraging the Greek side in particular to show some urgency to achieve a settlement through a timetable and by explaining to it the benefits of a settlement. Does the Minister agree with this? The FCO could use my speech of July 2014 to remind it of these benefits.
Before my last debate, the FCO was very helpful and telephoned me to ask me if I had any issues that I would like it to clarify. This time, alas, there was no such luck. Following the departure of the excellent Jill Morris, our party chairman had an unhelpful meeting with Lindsay Appleby, who kept asking us for ideas rather than giving any from the FCO. When I telephoned the FCO this week, no one would discuss the issue with me. Perhaps Caroline Wilson, the new FCO Europe director could take note.
I turn to an analysis that I sketched out in my July 2014 speech and make no apologies for repeating it. This explains a key missing factor in current and previous peace talks. According to a paper from the well-respected Cyprus expert Alexander Lordos, research director for Cyprus 2015, one of his key explanations for the failure of peace talks current and previous is that the Cypriot public are not involved in the peace process. Lordos states that there had been an opportunity to add public opinion analysis to the Annan negotiating process: specifically, Professor Colin Irwin from Ireland was asked in 1998 if he could assist with such a programme. I quote from his book:
“I was invited to attend a meeting of the Greek Turkish Forum in Istanbul in December 1998 ... I made a presentation of my Northern Ireland work to the Greek and Turkish Cypriots present and explained how it was used to help build a consensus around the Belfast agreement. They subsequently decided they would like to undertake a similar programme of research in Cyprus … although the Greek Cypriot negotiators wanted to go ahead with a poll the Turkish Cypriot Government did not ... in the end no polls were undertaken and without the benefits of an effective programme of public diplomacy both the negotiations and subsequent referendum failed”.
The danger of secret negotiations, as are going on now, is that when the results reach the public, there can be a huge hurdle to cross to get them accepted.
Overall, I hope that the Minister will be able to stir the FCO to give the same impetus to the peace talks that she gave to the Scottish Conservative Party in her maiden speech as their leader, where she said in a reference to Lady Thatcher,
“I think you may take it that matron’s handbag will be in hyper-action”.
Will she apply this also to the FCO Cyprus department, so that the UK can play its part in achieving a solution?
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he could address what I am about to say. I have to declare a professional interest because as counsel I have appeared for the Government of the Republic of Cyprus against Turkey in various cases in the European Court of Human Rights and, for that matter, in the Committee of Ministers—so from that point of view I am one-sided. The noble Lord has not said a single word to indicate that he understands the Greek Cypriot point of view about the invasion, the failure of Turkey to honour judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, or the property issues and its failure to comply on those. Would it not be sensible for him, as an advocate on one side, to show some recognition that there are two sides to the story?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. When the consul-general wrote to me I replied saying that I would be pleased to have a discussion with him to give a balanced view of the situation—to which I had no reply.
My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a long-standing visitor to both sides of Cyprus, although probably I have been more frequently to the north than to the south. This has gone on for the last 25 years, during which I have increasingly despaired of any solution being found. None the less, like my noble friend Lord Northbrook—I was there slightly after him this summer—I, too, had the pleasure of a one-to-one meeting with the President, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.
My noble friend outlined exactly the President’s attitude so I will not repeat it. I asked all four, “What is your plan B?”. The President said, “I have no plan B. This either has to work or the whole thing dissolves. There is no plan B”. It was interesting that two other broad plan Bs came out of conversations with the Prime Minister, in particular, and the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. One is that they have some sort of Channel Islands solution. In other words, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus becomes a Channel Island to Turkey, which formally—it already does actually—takes over responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, and North Cyprus effectively has home rule. Of course, as the politicians pointed out to me, they have an English-based system of justice—quite a different legal system from that of the Republic of Turkey—so it would make quite good sense for them to have that status.
The other solution that was put forward, particularly by the Deputy Prime Minister, which is probably the most sensible in the long term, is that if the negotiations break down, they should just clearly state: “There will be no further talks for 10 years, and we will get on with making this northern part of the island work somehow or other”.
That will work. Having been in North Cyprus for the first time in the late 1980s and intermittently since then—probably six or seven times—I have noticed the way in which it has developed: the new building, the way in which they have solved the water problem, and the developments as they have moved forward. North Cyrus could survive and even prosper without the island being reunited. So it is not the end of the world if these talks fail—although I share the President’s hope that they succeed. However, I feel quite strongly that if they fail, that has to be it. We cannot go on, year after year, having abortive talks and not getting anywhere.
In the event of what I call the 10-year solution, groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have to come much more firmly off the fence and give North Cyprus, if not complete recognition, at least more hope than they do at the moment. However, in fairness to Islamic states, there has been a reasonable input from them into North Cyprus—they are clearly friends of North Cyprus—as of course are the Israelis. There is quite a bit of Israeli investment in North Cyprus, particularly in the gambling industry. But if things do not work, we will need to build an alternative.
My noble friend Lord Northbrook has already mentioned the discussions on territory and property, which will take place in Switzerland during the course of the next month. These are quite crucial. It is no good pretending that North Cyprus can find millions and millions of euros to pay huge amounts of compensation. The money is not there. If we want compensation to be paid, let me ask the Minister: who is going to find the money? It can be found only by the European Union, the United States or the United Kingdom—but it does not exist in North Cyprus. It is no good sending them bills. It would be like sending bills to the debtors’ prison. There is no money in the bank. I believe a famous Labour politician left a note for a famous Tory politician to find when they came into office: “I’m sorry, there’s no money left”.
If a solution is wanted, I believe that it can be found. However, I am not sure that a solution is wanted. My noble friend Lord Northbrook was rather kind in quoting from his letter. I wonder if he would mind if I quote the opening sentence of a letter from a diplomat to a Member of this House:
“Dear Lord Northbrook, I am writing with regard to your recent visit to the occupied part of Cyprus. I understand you visited Cyprus on the despicable anniversary celebrations of the Turkish mass murdering invasion of 1974”.
I am sure the Minister will agree that, were a sentence like that to be found in a letter written by a British Foreign Office official, it would not be accepted as the norm for diplomatic discourse. It is way out of line. If we want to put it in perspective, let me quote yesterday’s Financial Times, which I think summed it up brilliantly and accurately:
“Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece”.
I think that is very accurate—and it is what we are up against. In my view, many of the protagonists on both sides are not looking for a settlement. They are looking more for a propaganda coup. But they are talking to their own sides. The Greek side believes what it wants to believe about the Greek negotiating position and how good it is, and the Turks believe that their future lies in Turkey.
President Akinci is actually an extraordinarily brave person. There are a lot of people in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus who agree more with the views of his Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister: “let them get on with things; we are going to survive here; we do not need a settlement”. So the President is doing very well. However, both sides have to want a settlement for it to work—and, with letters like that from the Cyprus High Commission, I am not sure that all sides are on board.
Since I have got the Floor, I will also say that North Cyprus itself needs to do a bit of sorting out. For some time now, I have been following a case that has been 10 years in the Cyprus legal system. I had an assurance from the President in July that there would be a letter, but I have heard nothing. If North Cyprus wants to come in from the cold, it needs to sort out its legal system—and, frankly, it has got to learn to reply to letters. This is not an acceptable way of running things.
Finally, we have Brexit on the horizon. It is not something that I voted for, but I believe that it gives us an opportunity to reverse the situation caused by the ECJ judgment of 1994. North Cyprus needs freer access to trade and I hope that, as part of the Brexit negotiations, we will set aside that judgment and play our part in helping the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to come in from the cold so that all its citizens do not have to live in Tottenham but can travel between the two.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, clearly does not agree with me. I am sure that he will make his feelings clear to me in private as he is not on the speakers list. As I said, this is a somewhat divisive subject and there are people on both sides. Let us hope it can be solved.
Before the noble Lord sits down—
I understand that in time-limited debates it is not usual to make repeated interventions.
My Lords, it is sadly rare, late on a Thursday afternoon, to speak of potential good news in the eastern Mediterranean, and it is hard not to get excited, but others may say, as my noble friends have, that we have seen this before. However, as the invasion is not in the conscious memory of anyone of my age or generation, perhaps I may be forgiven for expressing some optimism. It is not an event studied by many British schoolchildren in their history classes.
Many people probably do not know that here within the EU is the longest UN peacekeeping mission in the world. When one meets refugees from Northern Cyprus and travels to the island, as I had the privilege of doing this year, seeing the checkpoints in the UN buffer zone and the sandbags still blocking the streets brings home for the first time the human cost of this divided island. The sight of the deserted, formerly glamorous, resort of Famagusta, the children who left their homes during the war and who now, as adults, want to return home to their birthplace before they die, and the ongoing significant economic effect for those living in the northern part of the island are important drivers for peace.
However, the current global security situation has also highlighted that in today’s world, having irregularly governed territory is a risk to everyone’s security. The TRNC, which is recognised only by Turkey, is not a nation state and is seen by many as an irregular back door to the European Union. More than 40 years since the invasion, it has periodically caused significant problems for other countries, including the UK, when it has been used by criminals to hide out. Ports within non-recognised international territory also present opportunities for illegal trading in drugs, art and people. Therefore, it is not only because of our role as the previous guarantor of this island that it is in our interests for there to be peace in Cyprus.
Although the UK has stepped aside from its role as guarantor and has given it to the EU, I would be interested to know Her Majesty’s Government’s view on Turkey’s continued insistence on remaining in such a role. Will our Brexit change of status in relation to the EU have any effect on the current position? I join my noble friend Lord Northbrook in also being interested in knowing the position of the British Overseas Territories during any negotiation.
However, if there is one thing that the previous attempts at peace have shown us, it is that a political agreement by the political leaders is not enough—not only because any peace deal will have to be put to the people in a referendum but because, for a sustainable situation and for peace to endure for communities, the people also have to make that peace. I think that here too there are grounds for optimism, as there have been many civil society projects over many decades bringing the young people of Cyprus together for ordinary human contact.
Also, an interesting piece of research in the early 2000s revealed that some of the leaders who needed to be persuaded to become more involved in the peace process were in fact Cyprus’s religious leaders. Although primarily a political issue, one must not forget that Cyprus, like Jerusalem, features in the earliest life of the world’s two major faiths: Christianity and Islam. The Republic of Cyprus is 90% Greek Orthodox and the TRNC is 98% Sunni Muslim. As the newly appointed EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU recently said:
“Religious leaders often have a bigger say than political leaders”.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief relating to Cyprus said:
“While … Cyprus … is not per se a religious conflict, all cooperation between the religious leaders had stopped when the bi-communal conflict”,
was exacerbated 50 years ago. Research has shown that the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, which sits under the auspices of the Swedish embassy and the UN, has been highly successful in facilitating the repair of places of worship and enabling mosques in the south and churches in the north to be used for services for the first time in decades. On 18 October 2013, the Grand Mufti of Cyprus crossed the green line and conducted for the very first time a service in the Hala Sultan mosque, near Larnaca. His entry into the republic was personally facilitated by the Archbishop from the Republic of Cyprus.
Before 2009, 500 churches and monasteries in the north were derelict, looted or used for other purposes, and only eight out of the 110 mosques in the south were operating. However, between December 2013 and June 2014, the UN facilitated 48 religious services and commemorative events and 98 intercommunal harmony events across the border zones. On 16 September last year, a meeting was held at the Ledra Palace Hotel in the UN-controlled buffer zone, which was attended by the President of the Republic of Cyprus, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community and the five religious leaders of the island as a whole.
As one of the key issues for the peace talks is property, it is very important that much progress has been made with regard to religious buildings. It could form a model for the restoration of property following any peace settlement.
Psychologically, people returning to the place of worship that they knew could form the first step in healing and preparing them—if one can ever be prepared—for walking back into their home to see where they left the cutlery in 1974. This is the reality for many thousands of people, and will never be easy.
It perhaps goes without saying that, at this time more than ever in recent history, the reunification of Cyprus is needed for the region. Again, as the UN special rapporteur has said, Cyprus could be a “model” for the Middle East. The involvement of religious leaders in peacebuilding that I have outlined is necessary for any lasting peace, and could be a model strategy for the FCO, UN, Commonwealth and others when peace does come. I mention the Commonwealth not only in passing. Currently, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is chaired by the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus. It is hard to overestimate, both within the Commonwealth and in that region, the effect if peace could be achieved—particularly peace as I have outlined—involving leaders from the Christian and the Muslim community. As my noble friend has correctly mentioned, to have secret negotiations that you then have to take to the people can be problematic.
In light of what I have outlined, can the Minister request a place in these secret negotiations for the religious leaders who have been involved in this twin-track diplomacy? I do not expect the Minister to be able to disagree with the outline of the UK Government’s position as presented by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, but can she say what role the Commonwealth can play in these peace talks if the UK Government are unable to change their formal position?
I hope I have outlined that, even if there is no political agreement and settlement, all is not lost and we have a valuable model of engaging religious leaders in a peace process that can hopefully be used across the region where it is most desperately needed.
My Lords, following Cyprus’s independence from the UK and as a former guarantor of the 1963 treaty, we obviously have a close interest in the negotiations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, recently underlined the UK’s steadfast support for the process of negotiation and said that,
“the UK stood ready to help bring this to a successful conclusion”.
Apart from the Prime Minister’s recent meeting with President Anastasiades, will the Minister tell the House the extent of the UK’s practical involvement in the negotiations? What sort of advice and support have we been giving through this process?
As we heard in the debate from a number of noble Lords, with Mustafa Akinci’s election in April 2015, we have, for the first time since Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan 2004 reunification plan, two community leaders with the political will and commitment to reach a settlement and a solution. That is something we should not underestimate. As we have heard, in May 2015 the UN special adviser, Espen Eide, announced that the restarted negotiations had yielded their first tangible results, with decisions to open new crossings and interconnecting electricity grids on the island. Those are practical steps to reunification that again should not be underestimated.
The talks are based on an agreed formula of a unified state of Cyprus—a state, of course, which is a full member of the European Union—with a single sovereignty, single international personality and a single citizenship in a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as described in a series of United Nations resolutions. The problematic issues, which we have heard described in the debate, include power-sharing, with one side favouring more power with the federal Government and the other keeping as much as possible in the two constituent parts. There is also security, with the status of Turkish troops and the 1960 treaty of guarantee; residence and citizen rights of settlers from mainland Turkey; and the property issues that the noble Baroness outlined—there are thousands of claims to ownership of properties from people displaced during the events of 1974.
As we have read in the excellent briefing from our Library, this year both leaders completed an intensive phase of meetings, reiterating their determination of reaching a comprehensive settlement agreement in 2016. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, outlined why we have that timeframe and some of the conditions. I will return to the timeframe later.
After the 14 September meetings, both leaders then held a joint meeting with the UN Secretary-General on 25 September in New York, following which Ban Ki-moon welcomed their commitment to intensify efforts to reach the goal of a settlement in 2016. The fact that this meeting took place at all was a breakthrough. In the 16 months since this latest round of peace talks began, the two men have only ever met together with Ban Ki-moon on one other occasion. However, in press reports I read yesterday, President Anastasiades said that,
“it looks like many decisive convergences have been achieved that allow us to say that we can, under conditions, hope for an overall proposal for a settlement in the next few months”.
He went on to say, however, that he is not certain if developments will proceed the way everyone hopes. This, he said, does not depend on their commitment but on the determination and the implementation of a rhetoric that wants Turkey to pursue a solution. It is the sort of language that we have heard a lot of over the past 20 years. He said that this will depend and will become more evident at the forthcoming meeting on the territorial issue, which will take place possibly, as we have heard, in Switzerland.
I ask the Minister what assessment the Government have made of the likely success of these further talks, bearing in mind the comments of President Anastasiades. In the same report he spoke of creating a state that was based on the principles and values of the EU and will be functional and viable, allowing everyone to live wherever they want and to give, at last, the right to refugees to find their homes. He said he would not fail to knock on the door of anyone, especially the permanent members of the Security Council, to persuade them of the lawful right that no guarantee or the right of intervention is justified in a modern European country.
He expressed the belief that it would be inconceivable and a humiliation for Europe and for every European if a European state requires the guarantee of a third country, not that of Europe. Of course, in terms of the timeframe we are facing on these talks, we have the Cypriot presidential elections in early 2018. If there is a solution with potential referendums within that period, the UK will be preoccupied with Brexit. At Theresa May’s recent meeting with President Anastasiades, this issue was fully discussed, according to the subsequent Downing Street press release.
What is the Government’s assessment of the impact, if any, that Brexit will have on the negotiations over the Cyprus issue? Does the Minister believe that it will affect the 1963 treaty obligations? What assurances did the Prime Minister give to President Anastasiades on the legal rights of EU nationals already in the UK once we leave? On process the Prime Minister explained, according to the Downing Street press release, that we are currently preparing for the negotiations and therefore will not trigger Article 50 before the end of the year. Of course, we know that timetable has been revised. President Anastasiades extended an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit Cyprus. Will this be undertaken prior to Article 50 being triggered?
Some divergent views have been expressed in the Chamber today. The fact is, we can never undo the injustice that was done to the 200,000 people of Cyprus driven from their homes in 1974 and still living with that injustice today—seeing other people living in their homes, running their businesses or just leaving them to rot, as the noble Baroness indicated in terms of one of the once-prosperous seaside resorts. The injustice cannot be undone, but we can hope that the next generation of children will not have to live with the division and the injustice which their parents and grandparents had to face. We can hope that, given the leadership shown by both leaders—and it is no longer a vain hope—these children will grow up in peace and security in a united and democratic Cyprus.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Northbrook for calling this debate and to other noble Lords for their contributions. I know that they maintain a close interest in, and reflect an extensive knowledge of, Cyprus—that was manifest in their contributions. I commend their continued support for efforts to bring lasting peace to the island.
A settlement is in the interest of all Cypriots. The contributions from your Lordships today have served to underline that it is in the UK’s interest, too. The Government are fully seized of this and are actively engaged in supporting both sides in their search for a solution, as I shall set out.
The Government believe that there has never been a better opportunity for peace in Cyprus. This is down to the unstinting efforts of the leaders of the two communities, President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci, who have given hope and wrestled with undeniably complex problems. I pay tribute to their courage, their commitment and their leadership. I feel that there is justification for a degree of optimism, having regard to the challenging difficulties that the island of Cyprus has faced.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, sought clarification of the United Kingdom’s role in relation to these discussions and attempts to reach an agreement. I reassure him that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe and the Americas are in touch with all the key players, not only on the island but in Turkey and Greece. We believe that they share the same ambition to reach a settlement.
The leaders recently reaffirmed their commitment to reach a solution by the end of 2016. No one should underestimate the scale of the challenge, but with courage and compromise we believe that reaching a deal in this timeframe is achievable. The United Kingdom will continue to support the leaders as they seek to make this aspiration a reality.
I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that United Kingdom support includes practical measures. We have reiterated our offer, originally made in 2004, to cede almost half the land of the UK sovereign base areas to a reunited Cyprus. The Government have looked at this carefully. I can assure your Lordships that this offer will not adversely affect the ability of the bases to carry out their vital work to promote our security and that of the wider region. I hope that that answers the question posed also by my noble friend Lord Northbrook.
The United Kingdom also has a specific role to play as a guarantor power in the search for a settlement, alongside Turkey and Greece. The Government stand ready to play their part when asked to do so by the two sides. It is important to say that it is not for us to dictate what those arrangements should be. Rather, we will continue to support efforts to find a solution that allows both sides to feel safe.
The United Kingdom is also playing a role as one of the largest troop contributors to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus. I pay tribute to the dedication of the British troops and the more than 100,000 soldiers from 39 countries who have served in the mission to date. British troops have been there from the beginning, since 1964. The United Kingdom, together with Australia, is the only continuous contributor since the mission began. This demonstrates the UK’s long-term commitment to Cyprus, but more than half a century of peacekeeping also serves to highlight the pressing need to find a lasting solution.
The United Nations plays a key role in supporting the efforts of the two leaders in their search for peace. I pay tribute in particular to Special Adviser Eide, as well as to outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the personal attention that he has given to the Cyprus talks. I take this opportunity to congratulate his successor, António Guterres, on his recent appointment. I am confident that he will continue the good work of his predecessor.
The benefits of a Cyprus solution are clear, economically and politically. A united Cyprus would increase prosperity both for Cypriots and the wider region for three main reasons. First, a united Cyprus would have a larger and more efficient economy. Secondly, it would create a more stable investment climate and enable greater trading opportunities with Turkey and the wider Middle East. Thirdly, it would be able fully to exploit its natural resources for the benefit of all Cypriots.
According to analysis by PRIO Cyprus—an independent bi-communal research centre—the peace dividend for a united Cyprus could reach €20 billion over 20 years, and average annual incomes could rise by as much as €12,000 within the same period as a direct consequence of settlement.
The benefits go wider than the economy. A reunited Cyprus would not only provide greater stability and security for Cypriots but contribute to wider regional security. At a time when others are trying to sow discord and division, a peace settlement in Cyprus would stand out as a model of courage, tolerance and inter-communal cooperation—a country at peace with itself and its neighbours and a beacon of stability in a sometimes difficult region.
I turn to some of your Lordships’ specific contributions. My noble friend Lord Northbrook raised the role of the UK. I think I have partially covered that in my speech. The UK is sensitive to the need to recognise that only the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can negotiate an agreement. The UK is supportive, but not intrusive. We want to encourage, but not to interfere. To my noble friend Lord Northbrook, I say that I shall have to be circumspect about the use of my handbag.
My noble friend Lord Balfe made a speech in which he balanced optimism with pessimism, but he rightly identified economic potential. In response to his speculation about the consequences of the talks failing I would say that we are in the business of wanting, for both sides, the talks to succeed. We are trying to support as best we can what we see as a positive development offering a better prospect for both communities in Cyprus and a more hopeful future. In fairness to my noble friend Lord Balfe, I thought that he ended with a more upbeat prognosis.
My noble friend Lady Berridge, in a very constructive and positive contribution, raised a number of issues. In particular, she asked what would be the role of the Commonwealth in relation to a reunited Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus is currently in the Commonwealth, so the assumption is that a united Cyprus would also be in the Commonwealth. However, although Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth, that organisation has not had any direct role in the talks, because, as I indicated, it is up to the two leaders to decide how best to conduct the negotiations and when and how to involve others.
My noble friend Lady Berridge also raised the issue of the military bases—the sovereign base areas. They will remain, although, as I indicated earlier, we have offered to cede almost half the territory of our sovereign base areas to a united Cyprus if an acceptable agreement can be reached by the two communities.
On the question of guarantor powers, which my noble friend also raised, security and guarantees will be discussed as part of the settlement negotiations. It is not for the UK to dictate what the outcome should be, but just to continue to support efforts to find a solution which allows both sides to feel safe. While no agreement exists, the guarantor powers system remains. I was also much encouraged by my noble friend’s comments on the activity of the faith communities on the island of Cyprus.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked two questions. First, he asked what assessment the UK has made of off-island talks in the near future. I simply repeat our role: we wish to encourage, we do not want to interfere. We want to support, but we have no desire to intrude. He also asked whether Brexit will affect the UK’s role in settlement talks. The ongoing talks to reunite Cyprus are led by the leaders of the two on-island communities and facilitated by the United Nations. The UK’s role as a guarantor power under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council is unrelated to the UK’s membership of the European Union. This is an objective that we wish to see attained and which we think would be very good for both communities on the island.
I will finish by saying that the Government believe that a deal by the end of the year is achievable. The two sides, facilitated by the United Nations, are working tirelessly to make it happen. The UK commends their efforts, and we will do what we can to help. As I have said, the main beneficiaries of a deal will be the Cypriots themselves, but ultimately we all stand to gain.
We do not underestimate the difficulties. There will be tough choices to make. All parties will need to show courage and will have to be willing to compromise. But we firmly believe that the rewards will outweigh the sacrifices. I urge the leaders and the two communities to seize this opportunity for lasting peace. I assure your Lordships that the Government will remain steadfast in their support of both parties at this critical time.
House adjourned at 5.26 pm.