Lords challenge UK Gov’s understanding of life in the TRNC

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, Chairman of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, challenged the UK government’s knowledge of everyday economic reality in the TRNC, in the House of Lords, last week.

Lord Sharkey asked Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: “What assessments Her Majesty’s government have made of the exclusion of those living in northern Cyprus from the benefits of the island’s membership of the European Union “. The 1960 Treaty of Independence appoints the UK a Guarantor of the interests of both the Turkish and Greek communities on the island.

Replying on behalf of the government, Baroness Warsi said: “We endorse the European Council conclusions of 2004 by which the Council undertook to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot Community, by including much-needed assistance programmes. The best way for all Cypriots to enjoy the benefits of EU membership would be through a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. We continue to support the leaders of both communities in their efforts to achieve this, and we hope that the UN-led negotiations will restart and succeed in the near future”.

In 2004, Turkish Cypriots were encouraged to vote for the UN’s Annan Plan solution to the island’s division, with a promise that trade and other embargoes would be lifted if they did so. Although Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly voted in favour of the plan, those embargoes were never lifted.

Lord Sharkey then asked how the UK government could give practical help in advance of any comprehensive settlement, saying that the government was aware that meat and dairy products were the economic mainstay of North Cyprus but were banned from the EU only because there was no recognised authority in the North to certify those products as safe, even though they are safe. He asked the government to look at organising some form of bilateral certification arrangement that would allow such products to be sold in the UK.

Baroness Warsi replied that she was unable comment on his specific request, although if there was any work in progress on the subject of food, that she would certainly contact him about it. However, she reminded him that the many rights and obligations which came with EU membership did not apply in the TRNC. Nevertheless, she added, that the EU had been co-operating with representatives from North Cyprus to ensure that the infrastructure was in place for eventual reunification and EU membership.

Lord Hannay, former UK Special Representative for Cyprus to the UN (1996-2003) wanted to know how many Turkish Cypriots were working in Brussels as members of EU Institutions, such as the Commission and Parliament. He said that he suspected that there were none and commented that he thought it odd that people who were regarded as citizens of the EU could not be recruited to its institutions.

Baroness Warsi replied that she assumed he was correct and reminded him of the numerous challenges in that area. And added that the way to resolves those issues in the long run was to achieve a settlement of the Cyprus problem. Recalling that South Cyprus President Anastasiades had supported the 2004 Annan Plan, she said that there was some hope that the negotiations would resume and progress in a positive way.

However, Baroness Meral Ece (above pic) asked why the EU border appeared to terminate at the Green Line and effectively denied 300,000 Turkish Cypriots their fundamental rights under EU law, reminding all that the UK was one of the guarantor powers on the island and had a legal responsibility to recognise and support the Turkish Cypriots.

Baroness Warsi acknowledged that Baroness Ece was an expert on these issues, so would not challenge her assertions, but reminded her that the European Commission directly implements aid programmes in the North; that these social, economic and development programmes are specifically for the Turkish Cypriot Community. She also reminded her that Turkish Cypriots could get Republic of Cyprus passports and in that way, access some of the wider benefits that come with EU membership.

The recently elected chair of pressure group ‘Embargoed!’ Fevzi Hussein, commented that: “The UK, as one of the guarantors of Cyprus, must be seen to be doing more to help Turkish Cypriots caught up in decades of embargoes. I welcome and thank those peers who posed the questions which show they have all Cypriot interests at heart. Sadly, Baroness Warsi’s answers demonstrate the non-committal manner in which this government views the Cyprus Problem. The bottom line is, there is geo-political instability in the Easter Mediterranean and there is an economic crisis in the South of Cyprus and on top of all of this, there is reportedly an abundance of natural resources in the sea which all Cypriots must benefit from. This is a cocktail of nuances which could pave the way for cautious optimism but our government here has to open its eyes and smell the coffee.”

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