Saturday, 9 August 2014

House of Lords Cyprus debate shows UK Government insincerity over Turkish Cypriot discrimination

Baroness Warsi & Lord Maginnis cross swords over Cyprus

The British government was challenged over its insincerity in tackling the international isolation faced by Turkish Cypriots during a debate on Cyprus in the British Parliament last month. Tabled by Lord Northbrook and held in the House of Lords on the 40th anniversary of the Greek invasion of the island, the debate brought to the fore a wide range of issues including the current negotiations, the discovery of hydrocarbons and the ongoing isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

Among the speakers were Baroness Hussein-Ece and Lord Hannay, with a reply from Baroness Warsi on behalf of the British Government. Several peers highlighted the injustices faced by the embargoed Turkish Cypriots, with Lord Maginnis describing the government’s position as “a contradiction”.

A total of eight peers took part in the 83-minute debate held in the main chamber on 15 July. Tory peer Lord Northbrook opened the session by focussing on the benefits that a comprehensive political settlement would bring to all Cypriots as well as the international community. He stated that a united Cyprus would be able to extend its influence on the world stage, help boost regional security and enjoy key natural resources such as gas and water.

He stressed the need to include civil society in the negotiations, claiming it was important to, “add a human face and human perspective to the process”. Along with the benefits, Lord Northbrook underlined a point made by the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Dr Kudret Ozersay during his visit to London in June, that the two sides should also, “see the real harm to their interests that rejection [of a federal solution] would bring”.

Lord Northbrook touched on the visit to Cyprus by the American Vice-President Joe Biden – the first high-profile visit by an American politician in 52 years – believing the trip was in part made to help check Russia’s growing influence in South Cyprus. Russia helped to bail out Greek Cypriot banks last year and is now able to use the airbase near Paphos and the seaport in Limassol.
Lord Harrison calls education embargoes a "disgraceful state of affairs"
Lord Harrison 
Labour peer Lord Harrison called the decision to admit a divided island into the European Union “a major blunder” and the failure to include North Cyprus in the recent Cypriot Presidency of the EU and the European elections as a “missed opportunity.”

He homed in on the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, asking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister to comment on: “the disgraceful state of affairs of the exclusion of Turkish Northern Cyprus, by the Council of Europe, from the Bologna process and the Erasmus programme”. He described the educational embargoes as, “rank discrimination” and the forced touch-down in Turkey of flights to and from North Cyprus an “absurdity.”

The newly discovered gas fields off the southern coast of Cyprus were said by Lord Sharkey to have “changed the rules of the game in the region”. The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the TRNC Group pointed out the involvement of another superpower in the region, with the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation currently in talks to buy up to 40% of the Aphrodite gas field in Cyprus’s block 12.

Baroness Meral Ece-Hussein – the first and only British Parliamentarian of Turkish origin – also participated in the debate. She highlighted the importance of higher education to the North Cyprus economy: “an extremely buoyant, growing and successful university sector, with nine excellent universities, such as the Near East University, which has 22,000 students; almost 25% of those are international students from the Middle East, Africa and around the world.”

She asked if the British government would work towards establishing relations between Turkish Cypriot and UK universities, which she claimed would serve as a, “welcome and bold confidence-building measure”, concluding that, “education crosses all divides.”

South Cyprus not prepared for a solution after 35 years of being fed "an unadulterated diet of Greek Cypriot maximalist claims.” 

Lord Hannay - the UK's former Special Envoy to Cyprus
Britain’s former Special Envoy to Cyprus, Lord Hannay started his comments by insulting both Lord Maginnis and former President Denktas before proceeding to say that, “the stars favouring a settlement never seem to be in conjunction.” He said both sides needed to help prepare their communities for a solution, adding that this was especially lacking in the South, which for the past 35 years had been fed, “an unadulterated diet of Greek Cypriot maximalist claims.” 

Responding to the comments raised in the debate, Baroness Warsi, the then Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said among other things, that: “The difficult events of the summer of 1974 continue to cast a long shadow over Cyprus” but that she expected to see greater progress in the current negotiations in September of this year.

On the issue of direct flights, she claimed the UK was unable to permit this as it would breach its “obligations under international law” and that the Greek Cypriot run Republic of Cyprus was entitled to determine which airports across the entire island were open to international traffic. She said the UK viewed Turkish Cypriots as EU citizens and supported their right to direct trade, but this had not been possible due to legal disputes within the EU on its implementation.

UK government contradicts itself: 'Turkish Cypriots are members of the EU, but we do not recognise them & we will not recognise them'

Baroness Warsi was challenged on this by Lord Maginnis, who felt her comments were, a contradiction”. He said, in essence, the Minister was saying: “The Turkish Cypriots are members of the European Community, but we do not recognise them and we will not recognise them. To put it simply, we do not give any place to self-determination.”

In reply, the Minister said the British government’s hands were tied due to the ongoing dispute on the island and while they supported further measures to end Turkish Cypriot isolation, “the [unrecognised] status of the north, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has just mentioned, poses constraints on what we and the EU institutions can do.” She maintained that Turkish Cypriots could enjoy full EU membership once a solution was reached.

She also stated that the Greek Cypriots had the right to unilaterally exploit the newly discovered gas reserves, though she added this should be for, the benefit of all the communities in Cyprus.”  How this was realised was, she argued, down to agreements between the two sides.

See here for the full debate on 15 July 2014: House of Lords on Cyprus

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