Brexit must tear down Europe's last wall – it's our duty to all Cypriots

Brexit must tear down Europe's last wall – it's our duty to all Cypriots

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Friday 8, March, 2019

ON MARCH 30th the UK will wake up to an issue that has slumbered for 45 years. As one of the three Guarantor powers the UK will face, along with Turkey and Greece (via Brussels of course), the division of Cyprus. 

It is a division, not an occupation as many in the west believe. Cyprus gained independence from the UK in the 1960s but painfully aware of the legacies of Indian and Irish partition it was decided that both Turkish and Greek speaking communities must be protected from external influences, such as union with Greece – a cause that was then known as Enosis.

These were not trivial concerns. EOKA terrorists and Turkish militants both inflicted serious harm on the island's communities(and British troops protecting each community) and so as part of the independence deal there was a Treaty of Guarantee as well as a Treaty of Establishment.

This created three Guarantors, the UK as the former colonial power and Greece and Turkey to safeguard their kith and kin. Sporadic violence escalated following a coup in Greece by "The Colonels" and Turkey invaded the north of Cyprus on the basis of keeping its kinsmen safe. The reality was that mass population exchanges occured between the north and rest of the island that has led to bitter recriminations.

Notwithstanding this the 1990s saw two very important developments. The first was an overzealous European Court of Justice effectively embargo the North in 1994. The second was an agreement to allow Cyprus to begin accession to the EU. This permanently swung political opinion in Europe behind the Greek side and left Turkish Cyprus isolated economically and diplomatically in what amounts to a soft siege.

I say it is a division because the treaties make clear the equality of the communities and the duality of the Cypriot people. Both must be sovereign or neither are. The consequence has been to ruin the chances of prosperity of the north despite numerous attempts at reunifications being accepted by the Turks only for the Greeks to reject them. This will continue as long as the status quo refuses to treat both sides equally.

The North has extremely good economic potential. A mediterranean farm economy with labour costs a fraction of the south, an ideal hub for the Euromed region and quite possibly a role to play as a new Hong Kong of the Eastern Mediterranean. Its archeological heritage has scarcely been touched and the potential for tourism is clear. 

Indeed once upon a time most of the UK tourists visited the North and the now abandoned airport at Nicosia, above, is still legally owned by the MoD! It just lies within the Green Line for now so cannot be used. It would though be a great candidate for redevelopment. 

If the UK alone traded with North Cyprus, without extending diplomatic recognition, that would place it in the same space as Taiwan and time has seen Taiwan prove that markets and trade can quell ethnic nationalism and autocracy and develop a culture of freedom instead. How bright a beacon that could be for Turks on the mainland.

What North Cyprus needs is free trade with the UK and overfly rights protected so the UK can operate direct flights there and establish a transport hub into the Middle East. This 'economics first' approach can lead the UK back to being the honest broker in Cyprus we are supposed to have been. 

This week saw the Cypriot president visit Downing Street but how long must we wait to give the Turkish Cypriot president parity of esteem? If the North is treated as a key player in our own plans for the Mediterranean maybe then the other side of the island could re-engage with their neighbours as equals?

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