Question for Short Debate
My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that this debate, which was listed as the dinner break business, will now constitute the last business of the day. This means that theoretically it can be extended to 90 minutes and that Back-Benchers can, if so minded, speak for 10 minutes. That is not mandatory but they can do so if they so desire.
My Lords, I will speak for 10 minutes. I declare an interest as co-chair of the APPG for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has asked me to apologise for, and convey his regrets at, being unable to speak tonight as intended. His flight from Northern Ireland was a victim of Storm Ophelia.
When I tabled this Question, the negotiations over the reunification of Cyprus had not concluded. That is why the Question on the Order Paper contains the words,
“in the event of the failure of reunification talks”.
Those talks have failed, as did all previous talks over the last 50 years. The Question on the Order Paper is no longer hypothetical; it is now about the actual problems to be faced by the people of Northern Cyprus and about the actual help that Her Majesty’s Government may be able to provide in alleviating these problems.
Most commentators on the failed talks, this time and every preceding time, agree that reunification would bring economic benefits to all the citizens of Cyprus. Those benefits will not now materialise and there is no realistic prospect of them materialising in the foreseeable future. That is because there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of any reunification. No matter how much talk there may be from Greek Cypriots about continuing talks, it is clear that that will not happen. It is clear because every possible solution and every possible permutation of every compromise is known and has been proposed and exhaustively discussed, not just this time but in the Annan plan and in the preceding conversations. They have always failed.
There is no conceivable basis for any future talks without profound changes in what possibly both sides are prepared to accept. There is no sign that this will or can happen. The truth is that there is no incentive for the Greek Cypriots to compromise and no willingness on the part of the Turkish Cypriots to be subsumed into a Greek Cypriot-run state. There is no convergence of interests, not even over the exploitation of the offshore oil and gas finds, and there is no point in doing the same thing over and again and expecting something different to happen.
The failure of the Crans-Montana talks cannot be held at the door of the Turkish Cypriots. It cannot be laid at Turkey’s door either—it did, after all, offer to reduce the number of its troops on the island from 40,000 to 650—and the failure certainly cannot be laid at the door of Her Majesty’s Government. In fact, I make clear my gratitude and admiration for the effort made by Her Majesty’s Government to facilitate a solution to the Cyprus problem, and I particularly thank Sir Alan Duncan, Jonathan Allen and the whole FCO team for their hard work and commitment. There should be no doubt that this Government wanted the reunification talks to succeed and tried very hard to make that happen. I know how very disappointed they were by the final outcome.
However, the outcome was failure, and the consequences of that failure fall most heavily on the people of Northern Cyprus. Greek Cyprus is relatively rich; Turkish Cyprus is relatively poor. Greek Cyprus is an active part of the EU; Turkish Cyprus is technically part of the EU but enjoys none of the benefits of EU membership. Greek Cyprus trades with the world; Turkish Cyprus is under embargo. The future of the people of the north looks bleak, with no trade possibilities, no real inward investment and no external relations. It is cut off and isolated. Through no fault of their own, the people of Northern Cyprus are isolated and impoverished. They are an economic dependency of an increasingly distracted, erratic and authoritarian Turkey. The whole region is aware of the tensions that exist between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey over the oil and gas deposits in the island’s EEZ. The eastern Mediterranean region emphatically does not need a continuation of this tension.
However, we are where we are. The island has no real foreseeable prospect of reunification and the people of the north need help. I understand that help may be difficult to provide—not impossible, but certainly not straightforward. Ideally, help would take the form of ending or mitigating the effects of the embargo, restoring direct flights and shipping, and promoting inward investment. None of this is straightforward.
The UK position is hedged around with difficulties. There are EU and UN judgments and resolutions, and the votes of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus to consider in our Brexit negotiations. There is also the vital importance of our sovereign bases on the island. However, none of these things amounts to a reason for the UK simply confining itself to the hope that reunification talks might some day resume and have a different outcome. Surely there are things that can be done now—small things at first, but helpful none the less.
Flights from Northern Cyprus to the United Kingdom are a case in point. Until 1 April, flights from Ercan to the UK touched down briefly in Turkey and then continued to the United Kingdom. From 1 April, at the instigation of the United Kingdom, all passengers, baggage and cargo have had to be disembarked in Turkey for additional security screening. This adds significant delay, inconvenience and cost to the flights. The Department for Transport has told me that this new security screening was needed because the United Kingdom did not have sight of the security arrangements at Ercan. This makes the additional security arrangements in Turkey both completely understandable and obviously necessary.
However, the question is: why do we not gain oversight of the security arrangements at Ercan and satisfy ourselves that they are adequate or will be made adequate? I have asked this question in this Chamber and in writing to the Minister. I asked whether we have had discussions with officials in Northern Cyprus about the lack of sight of security arrangements at Ercan. The answer was this:
“The Government has not discussed security arrangements … with officials in the northern part of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus has not designated Ercan as an airport under the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. The Court of Appeal has ruled that direct flights from Ercan to the UK therefore cannot take place. Flights from Ercan to the UK land first in Turkey where passengers, their baggage, and any cargo are screened before the aircraft continues on to the UK”.
I note in passing that I had not asked about direct flights to the UK. The answer does not mention the fact that, prior to 1 April, security checks were carried out at Ercan and not in Turkey.
Notwithstanding all that, things seem to have moved on a little. Last Wednesday, representatives from the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations, the British Turkish Cypriot Association, and the Turkish Cypriot Chambers of Commerce for Northern Cyprus and the UK met the Secretary of State for Transport and others to discuss the situation. I am told it was agreed at that meeting that further investigative work is required to find a solution to the problem, which was correctly characterised as a security issue. I welcome this outcome and the signs of flexibility and willingness to talk and help that it shows. There is no legal barrier to our Department for Transport’s aviation people inspecting and assessing security at Ercan, which would comply with any request they might make. This is one way in which Her Majesty’s Government can help the people of Northern Cyprus in their isolation. There will be others.
The UK remains a guarantor power. It must also take some responsibility for allowing a divided island into the EU, thus removing any real leverage over the south. We are the former colonial power, we have two large and vital sovereign bases on the island, and we have an interest in maintaining peace and stability in Cyprus, in a region where there is very little of either. I make no criticism of HMG’s recent involvement with the island—rather the opposite. This speech is not an attack on Her Majesty’s Government and not a request for recognition of the north. It is a request for help for the people of Northern Cyprus. I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s assessment of the problems now facing those people and the ways that HMG might be able to provide concrete help.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I am a member of the TRNC All-Party Group. I have been going to north Cyprus since the 1980s. My first contact there was when I was on the Turkey delegation of the European Parliament. We found that the Greek Cypriot Administration consistently opposed any contact between the European Parliament and north Cyprus. Indeed, the first time I went to north Cyprus, in the 1980s, the leader of the socialist group of which I was then a member received a letter from the President of Cyprus condemning the fact that I had visited an illegal regime. You could say that things have gone downhill ever since. The fact of the matter is that we have had difficulties with both sides for many years, but in particular with the Greek Cypriot side giving a fair hearing to what I see as the legitimate demands of the Turkish Republic.
The European Parliament did stand up for the TRNC. It had an unofficial arrangement: with every Turkish delegation, you got a trip to north Cyprus—it was added on to the itinerary if you wanted to go. It was never an official visit; it was always an unofficial visit. However, it meant that a number of us got to know north Cyprus quite well. I got to know President Denktash, who was basically the father of the present north Cyprus. I got to know his first successor, Mehmet Ali Talat, who, with the help of the United Nations, got a settlement that was put to a referendum in 2004 and agreed on the Turkish side with the assurance of the EU that if the Greek Cypriots rejected it, they could still join the EU. The Greek Cypriots promptly rejected the UN settlement.
Before the Mehmet Ali Talat years, I had met the present President of Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci. He was then the Mayor of Nicosia, the Turkish name for the capital of the island of Cyprus and of its part. He was a very good, reforming mayor who made a lot of changes and got on very well. He always believed in his heart that if he could get the presidency, he could get a solution. You could not find a member of the north Cyprus political class who had more commitment to a settlement than Mustafa Akinci—some would say he had too much of an attachment to a settlement.
I have followed the negotiations since he became President on the political platform that he could negotiate a settlement because he knew the people on the other side and that what was needed was patience and good will. He put a huge amount of patience and all of his good will into it. Frankly, he got to a position where he had given every possible concession that he could have given. If he had given a single further concession, he would almost certainly have lost the referendum in the north because, even as he was negotiating in Switzerland, there were people in the north who were saying, “You have gone too far”. Even at that point he said, “If only we can bring back a settlement. We have got as far as we can. We have given every concession”—and they had given every concession, but they did not get a settlement.
Turkey tried. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has referred to the huge reduction they offered in the number of troops. The troops are there because the people feel insecure. It is not that they parade around the streets. I have been in north Cyprus many times, most recently this summer, and, although there are Turkish bases there, you certainly do not see Turkish troops parading around the streets. It has the most discreet army I have ever seen anywhere—more discreet, incidentally, than the Brits in the south.
Turkey did everything it could to get a settlement. The TRNC authorities did everything they could to get a settlement. The UN mediator, Barth Eide, tried everything he could to get a settlement. I met him after the collapse of the talks and he said to me before he went back to the Norwegian Parliament, “I could have done nothing else. We went as far as we possibly could”.
I have concluded that this process is now dead and it should be declared dead. There is no reason whatever for going back to talks on the old basis because there is nothing left to talk about. My friends in north Cyprus should say that they will go back to the chamber to talk either on the basis of two communities talking to each other, or two Governments talking to each other. The Government of Cyprus talking to the Turkish community has to come to an end. It is no longer acceptable. The Government in north Cyprus have now got to be firm. If south Cyprus says, “We are not going to talk”, so be it. Talks have got nowhere and so they are not losing much.
The next thing that has to happen is that we accept that Cyprus will not be the only island that is divided. The island of Ireland is divided. A large number of islands are divided between two populations that prefer to be divided than to be united. That can be done and the people of north Cyprus should not be afraid of it. They have been extremely resourceful. They have lived for many years under this situation and they have survived.
However, we now have to look to Turkey being more aggressive in its diplomacy. Turkey now has to join the international group of countries that get and campaign for the recognition of the TRNC, at least by Organisation of Islamic Cooperation members. There has to be an acceptance that this is now an emerging state. People say, “It is an illegal state”. I say, “Oh yes, like Taiwan, for instance”—which, I have been told by Chinese friends, is an illegal state. However, it is a state; it exists.
Britain, frankly, has got to stop hiding behind the European Union and always coming up with an excuse for doing nothing. It always seems that there is some fault or some reason why nothing can be done. I strongly supported us remaining in the European Union. I found it very hard to find anything positive to say about us leaving. The only positive thing that might come out of it is that we can no longer hide behind the European Union when we basically want to shuffle off our responsibility for behaving in a decent fashion towards north Cyprus.
I hope the UK will stop hiding behind the EU and say that we want to normalise relations with north Cyprus; that we want to bring it in from the cold; that everything else has failed but we will support talks between the two Governments or the two communities but, until that happy day comes, we will take the attitude that the talks are dead—the peace process is dead. We have to move on, so let us move on with a positive view from the United Kingdom, a positive push forward, and a recognition of our friends in north Cyprus. Historically, the people of north Cyprus have been good friends to the United Kingdom and we should welcome them as such.
My Lords, this month marks Cyprus’s independence from British colonial rule in 1960. Would it not have been a fitting tribute if these talks, which went on for years and years and seemed so positive, had come to fruition? As has been mentioned, the island has been divided since 1974 and the intervening years have been marked with much conflict and dispute. There have been many rounds of peace talks over the past 40 to 45 years and it is a tragedy that the two communities remain unevenly and unequally divided on such a small island.
There was a breakthrough a few years ago when the Turkish Cypriot President, Mustafa Akinci, was elected overwhelmingly on a pledge to do all that he could to bring peace and reunification to Cyprus. He was a strong advocate for reunification and for the past two years he has worked tirelessly and solely on this objective, deserving much recognition for his commitment. According to a recent poll, the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots—67%—want the divided island to be reunited. I declare an interest as I have many family members on the Turkish Cypriot side, whom I regularly visit, talk to and am in touch with. There is a large diaspora in this country and the vast majority want some sort of settlement. The Turkish Cypriots are tired of being a part of embargoes, of being isolated, of not having free trade, of their young people not being easily able to go overseas to be educated in universities and to be part of the wider global community.
In the 2004 referendum, the Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly for the United Nations Annan plan for a settlement. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has mentioned, the most recent special adviser, Barth Eide, has worked tirelessly. Following his resignation a few months ago, he said that the UN does not give up on Cyprus but it needs to know that there is a peace process which can only be owned by the Cypriots. That is an important statement because there are too many outside influences. Cyprus is in such a strategic position that it has always had too many outside influences who believe that it is not in their interests to have a settlement. It suits a lot of people for Cyprus to remain divided. I shall come on to particular communities which have that interest in a moment.
The sudden and depressing collapse of negotiations in Crans-Montana in July, and in particular, declarations by Turkey that there is no point in pursing the UN parameters, leaves Turkish Cypriots, who are also EU citizens, quite vulnerable. As my noble friend Lord Sharkey said, the sterling efforts made by the United Kingdom are to be commended. It is important to note that everything was thrown at this to make it a success.
There are already calls from some Greek Cypriot quarters to abandon all EU technical and financial support to the north as the Republic of Cyprus had only agreed to this on the basis of it being with a view to reunification. Can the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom, as a guarantor country, will continue to provide much-needed assistance, particularly technical and financial assistance, to the north to ensure that the institutions which they rely on do not face being set aside or programmes that are already in existence stopped? Can he also confirm that the United Kingdom, as a guarantor country, will look favourably at incremental ways of easing some of the isolation that results from the blocks and embargoes that Turkish Cypriots are facing through no fault of their own?
Regrettably, it looks like a settlement that involves power sharing is no longer on the cards. The Turkish Cypriots have again been left in limbo, with little hope of the embargoes coming to an end. Much was promised by the UK, the EU, the World Bank and the United Nations in the event of reunification. There would have been significant support and investment. What will happen to those commitments and some of those pledges? Are they all simply going to evaporate so that everything goes back to the way it was, to the status quo?
Can the Minister also say what steps will be taken to ensure that Turkish Cypriots are not left completely isolated diplomatically, internationally and financially? The President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr Nicos Anastasiades, was a strong supporter of the Annan plan and he came to the talks from a position of pro-solution. That is why many of us were so hopeful that President Mustafa Akinci had a partner in peace. They both wanted the same thing. It is therefore hugely disappointing that more efforts were not made to thrash out the positive deals that were on the table. President Mustafa Akinci said after the Crans-Montana talks that the Greek Cypriots—the people and the leadership—do not want to share power. This is not something I have heard him say before, but sadly it now seems to be a reality.
In the crucial referendum held in 2004, 75% of Greek Cypriots voted against a federal solution. It now seems that, in the run-up to the elections in the Republic of Cyprus, no deal is presumably a vote winner, so President Akinci’s observation that the Greek Cypriots do not want to share power looks increasingly accurate. It is also apparent that Turkish Cypriots want to share power because they want to share sovereignty. Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights binds all institutions of the EU and provides that all EU citizens should be treated equally, along with protection from discrimination as set out in the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. Those institutions are under a duty to ensure that the Turkish Cypriot community has all the benefits of membership and is free from all forms of discrimination. Is this going to be looked at seriously and can the Foreign Office make inquiries into how it can be progressed?
The agreed troop presence has always been a stumbling block. The Greek Cypriot diaspora in this country has frequently taken to platforms and demonstrations asking for Turkish troops to get out of Cyprus. They all want that. It was reported that it had been agreed that, as my noble friend Lord Sharkey said, the Turkish troop presence would be reduced to 650 along with 950 Greek soldiers. However, what could not be agreed was either a review or a sunset clause. That was the only issue on the table and surely it could have been thrashed out rather than the talks and negotiations being abandoned. The Greek Cypriot leadership has unfortunately opted for the status quo and thousands of Turkish troops will remain. The island will remain divided and much-needed investment in an island where self-determination for all Cypriots could have been a reality is to be denied. Personally, I cannot see these talks being revived again after such a loss of confidence on all sides. I do not think that the Turkish Cypriots will ever want to come back to the negotiating table unless something dramatically changes.
The demographics in Cyprus are changing as well, and not just for Turkish nationals. In the past few weeks, it has been reported that Russians oligarchs have been acquiring Cypriot citizenship and are therefore now EU nationals. They have created a new political party in Cyprus which says that it supports UN talks on the future of the divided island and aims to take part in the European elections in 2019. Of course, Turkish Cypriots are denied the right to take part in European Union elections simply because they need to be registered in the Greek south in order to vote. All these anomalies are being thrown up in the absence of any comprehensive settlement. Surely Russia gaining a foothold in Cyprus is a worrying trend.
I believe that politics is the art of the possible. If Greek Cypriots are unwilling or unable to share power, there must be legal mechanisms in place which, with support from the UK and the EU, could enable the Turkish Cypriot community to benefit fully from Cyprus’s membership of the EU. It is unjust that the community should face further decades of isolation. Can the Minister say whether it would be possible for the United Kingdom to make at least incremental changes to relieve the isolation and the embargoes, and to look at investment that would allow Turkish Cypriots to enjoy a better quality of life? Can he comment on this, please?
My Lords, it is a great privilege to make a short contribution to this debate. I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for bringing this unfortunately timely question before your Lordships’ House. It also very encouraging that the Government’s reply will come from my noble friend the Minister of State.
I am quite sure that, like everyone else in the Chamber, we share the same sadness that the Crans-Montana unification talks failed in July. We must now consider what steps can be taken to improve the position of those who reside in the northern republic. As we have heard in the debate, through no fault of their own they face isolation from the international community. Reunification is something that all stakeholders, including Her Majesty’s Government, desire, and undoubtedly that would be the simplest solution to improve the economy of the north and the livelihoods of the people who reside there. It is important that it should remain the prime goal of all who care about the northern republic of Cyprus. However, unification after the tumult and displacement of the last 60 years, with more than 200,000 people being displaced, an intervention by Turkey and an attempted coup, can only come about with an approved constitution that commands the support of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities, but for me it is most important that that support should come from the Turkish Cypriot minority.
It is very easy for us in the UK to support a diverse, functioning democracy in a unified Cyprus, but we must be realistic that significant safeguards are required to ensure that in a unified Cyprus, we do not see the same trajectory that has taken place all too often in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East where diverse communities become quickly homogenised as the minority leaves or is driven out. The safeguards were present in the most recent talks. Six separate substantive issues were identified, all of which had actually been identified and addressed a decade ago in the Kofi Annan plan in 2004. However, in these the 11th such unification talks, disagreement on chronology and what the UN identified as a chicken-and-egg problem ensured that agreement could not be reached. It is with a heavy heart that I do not think we are going to witness a reunification solution any time soon. We must now think of the people of Northern Cyprus.
I was pleased to hear that in response to a Question asked by my noble friend Lord Balfe, my noble friend Lady Goldie was able to acknowledge that Her Majesty’s Government remain committed to ending the isolation of the northern Cypriot community. However, I recognise that in the current realm of international law and in the Security Council resolutions as they stand, without unification the community’s isolation is complete. This creates a situation where, until the Republic of Cyprus agrees to a unification process, the Turkish republic remains in a state of isolation. Although a compromise was offered in the recent talks, the fundamental objection—an understandable one—that the Republic of Cyprus has to moving forward is supposedly the presence of 40,000 members of the Turkish army in Northern Cyprus and a fear of potential Turkish interventions in the future. It is something that does worry the Greek Cypriot community. However, it is clear that that cycle needs to be broken. By continuing the isolation of the Turkish republic, the international community is increasing dependence on Turkey. At the moment, it costs $1,200 extra for a Chinese container to be docked in Northern Cyprus as opposed to the Republic of Cyprus. Planes can only arrive via Turkey. Marketing for tourism and business increasingly looks only toward Turkey. That is leading to a forced position where Northern Cyprus relies on Turkey as an economy, dependent on subsidy from Turkey and is shaped by fluctuations in the Turkish economy.
Unification would greatly increase the economy of Northern Cyprus by an estimated €9 billion by 2035. Given that we are unlikely to see reunification any time soon, I suggest to the Minister that it is now worth exploring how, still with the goal of unification in place, the international community finds a means to ensure that the Northern Cypriot population are not caught in a Catch-22 situation wherein continued international isolation leads to an ever greater dependence on Turkey, which in turn leads to a greater suspicion from the Republic of Cyprus. That is not a situation the Government of Northern Cyprus, or indeed the Turkish Government, who contribute a significant proportion of GDP to Northern Cyprus, want to see continue. As the Government of Northern Cyprus made clear when President Erdogan’s advisor suggested it, they do not wish to be seen as a “province” of Turkey. The Turkish Cypriots are a very secular and outward-looking people. However, with every passing year of separation and isolation, unification becomes less likely, and dependence on Turkey and exclusion from the EU continues.
As a guarantor of the security and integrity of Cyprus, I ask the Minister to ensure that Her Majesty’s Government do all they can to diminish the isolation of the northern republic. Although the unification of the island now seems to be in the middle distance, if we do not do so, I fear that isolation will only ensure that unification, and all it will bring to all Cypriots, fails to remain a future viable goal.
My Lords, it is tempting to answer the two questions of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, rather succinctly. To his first, I say that there will be plenty of problems now that the reunification talks have collapsed. As for the second, I am sure the Minister will recite the usual FCO formula that both sides have to work out a new solution and the UK cannot assist until they have produced an almost final blueprint. That view needs revision, as I shall come on to discuss later; but, like the noble Lord, I want to praise the FCO for its efforts toward the end of the talks in trying to achieve a solution.
However, I think the question of the noble Lord needs much more detailed analysis. The main problem will be the continued isolation of Northern Cyprus, which will continue to rely upon Turkey’s support. That isolation comes in several forms. First, it is economic. For instance, I will cite the major problem of the relationship with the EU which, unbelievably, agreed in 2004 that Cyprus could join, regardless of whether agreement had been reached with the Turkish Cypriots. To add insult and injury to the north, it is the whole island that had formally acceded to membership, including the unrecognised and unrepresented Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus—TRNC. As a result, the north is deprived of favourable tariff treatment from the EU and other financial benefits to help the infrastructure and other projects.
The next economic problem applies to the natural resources available from the seas surrounding the island. If the island was reunited, there would be the possibility of exploiting the gas resources in, for instance, the Aphrodite field. At the moment, such exploitation is impossible. That gas could be piped to Turkey, giving Cyprus much cheaper energy on the way.
Another form of isolation is travel. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has already stated, visitors to the north are unable to fly directly to the island, having to stop in Turkey on the way. Such a problem will not be solved as long as the island is divided. That has a direct effect on tourism for the north, as the hassle factor of getting to it deters many. Varosha, which was a prime tourist resort before partition, is still shut off; that is a benefit to no one.
Another problem faced by the north could be the attitude of Turkey. The unpredictable President Erdogan could seek to take in Northern Cyprus as another province of Turkey. That would be a very unsettling event as it could stir up the Greek Cypriot community and Greece itself.
What should be done to solve these problems? Like every other speaker, I fear that negotiations to reunite the island as one entity are now doomed to fail, basically because the Greek side has got exactly what it wants at present, especially with membership of the EU. As Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, wrote in the Independent on 1 October:
“For any negotiation of this kind to succeed, both sides have to be able to gain something. But, from the Greek Cypriot point of view, conceding political equality with the Turkish Cypriots means giving power away. If the quid pro quo had been EU membership, a deal in my view would have been agreed. But absent that … no Greek-Cypriot leader will ever be able to get their electorate behind a deal. The status quo for the south is simply too comfortable”.
Jack Straw goes on to say that he believes the international community should,
“acknowledge this reality and recognise the partition of the island. That would be far more likely to improve relations between the two communities than continuing the useless merry-go-round of further negotiations for a settlement that never can be”.
So what should the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office be? Several members of the APPG group for the TRNC, of which I am a member, visited the FCO in July. For myself, having watched the progress of the talks carefully over the last two years, there were major indicators of lack of progress, particularly when it appeared that the Greek side was expanding the convergences. The FCO was putting all its money on the negotiations succeeding and it was apparent that it had no plan B if the talks were to fail. That was too narrow an approach to take. The FCO should be much more proactive at an earlier stage and look to push forward the partition concept. An interesting article by Dr Sen Dervish of the Centre for the Study of International Peace and Security looks at that idea in more detail. First, she says that Cyprus is already a,
“de facto militarily-partitioned state between Turkey and Greece”.
She believes that reunification is,
“a pipe dream … A readiness for political compromise and social cohesion—undisputedly a precursor for any peace deal—is debatably non-existent on the island … The psycho-political stance of the two Cypriot communities indicates that they want to remain divided; Cyprus should not be left at the mercy of an endless peace process where issues are negotiated to a point of tautology”.
She believes that recognition of the two states,
“would consequently eradicate many legal and political problems surrounding partition, such as human rights and property issues … There are further axiomatic legal obstacles to partition, such as Article II of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee signed by the two Cypriot leaders, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom. International organisations such as the EU perpetuate the existence of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus, granting it enjoyment of protections awarded to states under public international law. In reality, however, there exist two democratic states of Cyprus and obstacles to peace are overtly political rather than strictly legal … accordingly, the solution needs to be a political one. Partition would also result in the destruction of rights of residence and property of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; justified mutual claims for compensation can, however, be raised following the recognition of the TRNC. Moreover, redistribution of land rights in the interests of permanent peace is not, however, a new concept and has been employed—contentiously but successfully— … in Colombia”.
“If the partition of Cyprus is internationally accepted, a wide variety of challenges of the ongoing peace negotiations can be resolved: derogations from EU law regarding living in the north without limits; freedoms will be restored throughout Cyprus; the contentious guarantorship will cease to be required”.
More controversially, she says that the,
“Greek Cypriot authorities will acquire the sole legal right to use the hydrocarbon findings that have been found on the south of the island”.
I am not sure I can agree with this last point because I feel the natural resources should be shared.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for initiating this debate, and a timely debate it is. The UN-backed talks in Switzerland, which began in January, were seen as the best chance to move towards a two-state federation. As the United Nations Secretary-General said, their failure was,
“despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties”.
I have no doubt about the sincerity of people’s commitment, particularly the two communities, who want to see a settlement. Unlike many of the noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I have not visited Cyprus, neither north nor south, but I have spent most of my life living on that other green line, which is of course Green Lanes, where the diaspora communities from both sides work and live together in a unified community spirit. We must not forget that hope. Very often the politics of this divided community do not originate from the island of Cyprus but from external factors. That is what we need to better understand.
The sticking point of the settlement remains the troops. There is no doubt about that. Turkey and President Erdogan said that removing Turkish troops was “out of the question” unless Greece committed to removing its troops. That is a difficult issue to resolve. There also remains the obstacle to a deal of the return of property to tens of thousands of Cypriots who fled their homes when Turkey invaded the island in 1974.
The question we are focusing on tonight is the problems that will be faced by the community in Northern Cyprus economically. The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who is here tonight, has said that,
“the best way to improve north Cyprus’s trade relations and overcome the isolation of those residing in north Cyprus”,
was to see,
“a settlement deal that protects the interests of both … communities”.—[Official Report, 14/9/17; col. 2525.]
I am sure that, not for the first time, the Labour Front Bench’s position is at one with that of the Government Front Bench. The speakers in the debate will show that we are in isolation, as it were. But the Opposition’s position, like the Government’s, is that we continue to support all efforts towards a just and lasting Cyprus settlement, both bilaterally and within the forum of the United Nations. The conditions in Cyprus and the social and community divisions can be resolved only by the two parties ultimately coming together. My concern about the actions referred to in the debate is that any that frustrate that ability of communities to come together would be wrong and in breach of our international treaty obligations. As Alan Duncan said, the collapse of the talks is,
“a time for calm reflection and consideration of future steps”.
That is what we need to foster.
I ask the Minister to address my concern that the Turkish Cypriot authorities have started charging customs duty on goods carried by UN aid convoys to Greek communities in their territory. Delivering humanitarian assistance is vital in that part of the island, under a long-standing agreement. What representations have the Government made on this alarming development? Our actions should be about building that consensus towards a settlement.
Will the Minister agree, in responding to the debate, that the Government’s position of simply supporting and encouraging is doing little to progress the situation? As a guarantor, we have a responsibility to be an active participant in promoting the coming together of the two communities. Will he outline the Government’s further action to that end, in the light of the breakdown and deadlock of discussions? What do we need to do to unlock this situation?
Many noble Lords have talked about economic development. I read Jack Straw’s article about the situation and his conclusions, but my experience is that people understand, as they have done in Northern Ireland, that the real benefit of peace is economic development and lifting people out of poverty. You cannot go for that without first having a settlement.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this important and, as several noble Lords acknowledged, timely debate. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for raising this issue.
Before I address the questions that were raised in the debate, it would be appropriate to set out the Government’s position and the current situation with regard to the talks. In doing so, I acknowledge and will convey to my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan the commendation of his efforts. I joined the Foreign Office when the talks were under way. I assure your Lordships that Sir Alan spent considerable time shuttling between talks. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was also involved, as was the UN. I am sure I express the sentiments of all noble Lords, not just those in the Chamber—and, indeed, the sentiments of many across the island of Cyprus—that it was extremely disappointing and regrettable that the talks did not reach a successful conclusion. I thank noble Lords for their support of the Government’s position. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, made clear Her Majesty’s Opposition’s support for the view that the Government have taken and the efforts we have made in this respect.
I make it clear that the UK does not recognise the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 550. The implications of this are wide-ranging, as I shall explain. The Government continue to believe that a fair and just settlement is the best solution for the problems that beset the Turkish Cypriot community. It offers a better future for all Cypriots than any conceivable alternative. We have heard a few suggestions this evening. A united federal Cyprus could change lives profoundly on both sides of the green line. Instead of suspicion and economic stress, it could provide security and prosperity.
That is why there were such high hopes for the reunification talks in the summer. An agreement appeared within reach. The Foreign Secretary and my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, Sir Alan Duncan, did everything in their power to help our partners overcome the final obstacles to a deal. All sides showed real courage and commitment to move beyond their long-entrenched positions. The UN Secretary-General deserves praise for his personal dynamism and deft handling of a sensitive process, which brought us closer than ever—I emphasise that—to an historic agreement. Regrettably, it remained just out of reach.
For the time being, both Cypriot communities must continue to live with the sense of insecurity that division brings. But it need not be that way for ever. We should make sure that it does not remain that way for ever. A deep concern expressed by my noble friend Lord McInnes and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece—indeed, I think by all noble Lords—was about the challenges that many Turkish Cypriots face. The breakdown of the talks means that the problems they have faced hitherto will continue until the talks succeed. Continued partition means that ties of all kinds, from trade and travel to sport and culture, are either limited or impossible.
This also has implications for what this Government can do. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, there are certain things we cannot do within the scope of our international obligations. He mentioned the additional security measures that have been introduced on flights between the UK and the north via Turkey. I assure him that there is no intention to target passengers from the Turkish Cypriot community with unnecessary rule changes. The Government have no aim other than to keep passengers safe. The noble Lord will recall that when the Government made a request in late March for a ban in the aircraft cabin of certain electronic devices—I remember it well because I was Aviation Minister at the time—it included several countries, including Turkey. It added impetus to our wish that passengers transiting through Turkey should not be exempt from such measures. The noble Lord raised the meeting which recently took place between representatives and the Secretary of State for Transport. I am aware of that meeting and in advance of this debate I asked my officials at the FCO to follow up on the specifics of it. I will update the noble Lord accordingly.
My noble friend Lord Balfe raised the issue of hiding behind the EU. It was strange from the Front Bench to hear different perspectives about the EU. I assure my noble friend that the United Kingdom does not hide behind anyone but we are bound by relevant Security Council resolutions not to recognise the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Leaving the European Union does not change that. I assure noble Lords that the UK is committed to supporting the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community, reducing its isolation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, highlighted, and helping it prepare for a settlement.
I will give a few examples. Since 2004, the UK has funded a range of projects to help prepare the Turkish Cypriots to make a success of reunification. Their aims have included modernising public administration, drafting federal laws and promoting intercommunal relations. One recent project directly benefited the Turkish Cypriot community by working to strengthen local government services. Another promoted business collaboration between Turkish and Greek Cypriot entrepreneurs to build trust and encourage them to work together for the prosperity of a united Cyprus. Forging these personal links is all the more important while the political process remains stalled. It will help ordinary people see reunification not as a threat but a real opportunity to thrive together.
While the UK remains a member of the European Union, we will also continue to contribute financial and political backing to the European Commission’s aid programme for the Turkish Cypriot community. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about aid. I will take his question back and write to him on it. I assure noble Lords that the EU aid programme is designed to encourage the economic development of the north, with long-term benefits for its society. It is vital preparation for reunification by bringing the north into line with the EU acquis and so helping to ensure that Turkish Cypriots can enjoy the benefits and freedoms of EU membership in full from day one of a settlement. We also encourage the two communities to persevere with confidence-building measures, which are needed now more than ever. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to look at other means of support within the constraints of UN Security Council resolutions and international law.
I shall highlight some of the other measures being taken. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, my noble friend Lord McInnes and others that we support continued co-operation. We believe that confidence-building measures between the two sides will continue to make a positive contribution for the Cyprus settlement process. We have supported the island’s two chambers of commerce in their bicommunal work to highlight the clear economic benefits of a settlement and have promoted practical co-operation between the communities; for example, across professional services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, mentioned education. We continue to help Turkish Cypriot students access opportunities across Europe through the delivery of an EU-funded scholarship programme and by supporting UK education providers through education fairs and advice to applicants. She also asked about technical support continuing. I can confirm that the Government are pursuing their project works in the north.
I cannot agree with the proposals put forward by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, and I have already alluded to the Government’s position. He raised the important issue of the recent exploration around hydrocarbons. We welcome the restraint shown by all parties since exploratory work began and we encourage them to avoid any actions. This applies across the piece. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also referred to this issue. Any actions that can risk escalating tensions in the region should be avoided. The focus should be on how hydrocarbons can support a settlement and be developed for the benefit of all Cypriots.
This has been a challenging summer for both communities in Cyprus, but the Government remain focused on getting a lasting settlement. The Government remain sympathetic to the plight of all Cypriots who suffer because of partition. We continue to support a settlement based on a bizonal, bicommunal federal Cyprus because we believe it is the fairest solution and, most importantly, the one most likely to last. I accept that the talks fell short in the summer, but we remain convinced that this is the right way forward. Yes, it is time to reflect, but we will continue to work with both sides to ensure that in the coming months, we continue communicating and talking with our friends on the island and across the region because it is only through discussions and negotiations and by both sides coming back to the negotiating table that we will be able to secure a brighter future for all Cypriots.
House adjourned at 8.27 pm.