By DAVID MADDOX, POLITICAL EDITOR, SUNDAY EXPRESS
BRITAIN can help deliver “an historic opportunity” to bring a peaceful settlement to the political crisis which has divided the island of Cyprus for almost six decades in talks in Geneva next week.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express, the President of Turkish North Cyprus Ersin Tatar has urged Boris Johnson’s government to get behind his plan for a two-state solution which he will propose at the talks. He believes that after Brexit freed Britain from the EU it can now fulfill its role as a neutral guarantor for the eastern Mediterranean island, ensuring that both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are treated in a balanced way.
And Whitehall sources have told the Sunday Express that UK ministers are considering officially recognising North Cyprus as an independent country.
A resolution to the problem would help the 300,000 Turkish Cypriots in Britain whose country is currently not recognised and would see direct flights to it allowed for the first time.
Thousands of British citizens in Northern Cyprus would also be able to come and go more easily while it could become a popular holiday destination along with the south.
At one point in the Brexit negotiations, British citizens living in Northern Cyprus were threatened with arrest and fines if they crossed over into the south as EU leaders tried to put pressure on the UK for a deal.
A deal would also potentially bring a long-term agreement on the UK’s two military bases in Cyprus.
Then in 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece’s annexation led to Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was officially founded in 1983.
Since then many attempts have been made to create a federal solution on the island with the last one brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004 rejected in a referendum by the Greek Cypriots but supported by the Turkish Cypriots.
Recently former foreign secretary Jack Straw admitted that it had been a mistake to subsequently allow Cyprus to become a member of the EU until the issue was resolved.
President Tatar, whose election last year initiated the new round of talks, said: “We don’t want to waste time any longer. All these years we have been wasting valuable time.”
He pointed out that the discovery of oil reserves around the island had only served to increase the tensions.
He said: “They [the Greek Cypriots] pray for time because they believe all these years that Turkey will change its priorities, give up and pull out.
“With the developments in the eastern Mediterranean, the island has become even more valuable.
“Turkey will never give up or change its mind. It will continue probably increasingly to support the Turkish Cypriots.”
He said that a two-state plan is now the only way forward and one which has the full backing of the Turkish government.
“It is the facts on the ground,” he noted. “What we have at the moment is peaceful coexistence with two neighbouring states.
“Different people, different language, different history, different culture. Therefore it was our true right to establish our own state which we did [in 1983].
“Since 1974 we have been separated. The young generation don’t know one another. They have different language, culture and experiences. There have been so many bitter experiences that there is no hope for a federal relationship in the future.
Kofi Annan rejected a referendum in 2004
“Therefore we demand that our state is recognised.”
He described the solution as “a win, win” situation which will allow the two states to start cooperating properly, sharing resources while easing tensions between Greece and Turkey.
It would also allow direct flights to North Cyprus while flights to South Cyprus could start going over Turkey instead of the long way round via Eastern Europe.
He has had “positive talks” with foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Europe minister Wendy Morton but said it was the British sense of fair play which can help drive a solution.
He said: “My message is as a Turkish Cypriot, as an elected President, as a friend to the British people, I lived in England in 17 years, I went to school in East London, I went to Jesus College Cambridge, I graduated as an economist, then I worked with PwC as a chartered accountant. I am a friend.And as a friend I am asking the British community to reconsider what did happen in Cyprus over all these years.”
Current British Government policy is that the UK does not recognise the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an independent state.