Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:05 pm on 18 May 2022.

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Photo of Lord Sharkey Lord Sharkey Liberal Democrat 9:05, 18 May 2022

Thank you. My Lords, for the next five minutes, I want to move the focus from eastern Europe—and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard —to the eastern Mediterranean and the divided island of Cyprus. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the APPG for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The island of Cyprus has been divided for over half a century. In that time, there have been many attempts at reunification, all of which have failed. These failures have prolonged the isolation and impoverishment of the north. Through no fault of their own, the people of northern Cyprus have suffered and continue to suffer exclusion from the international community and embargoes on their trade.

Despite this record of failure, and after another unsuccessful round of talks in Geneva 13 months ago, the UN Secretary-General said:

“I do not give up. My agenda is strictly to fight for the security and wellbeing of the Cypriots—of the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots—that deserve to live in peace and prosperity”.

However, by the end of last year, the Secretary-General was markedly more pessimistic. He reported that

“confidence in the possibility of securing a negotiated settlement continued to fall on the island from an already low level. Public debate focused on the divergent positions of the sides regarding the basis of the talks”.

Calling the positions “divergent” is putting it mildly. The Greek Cypriots propose variations on the bizonal, bicommunal federation model. The Turkish Cypriots now reject this model entirely and propose a two-state solution. Indeed, the Turkish-Cypriot north has a President, Ersin Tatar, who was elected on exactly that platform.

The two sides appear to be further apart than ever. The south remains prosperous, while the north becomes poorer, under embargo and isolated. In the south, GDP per head is around $30,000. In the north, it is around $15,000. The north’s economy depends largely on subventions from Turkey. The recent steep decline in the value of the Turkish lira has had a disastrous effect on the economy in the north. Inflation in Turkey now stands at 70%, with the prospect of further damaging falls in the value of the lira and the value of the subventions to northern Cyprus.

The Secretary-General ends his most recent report by calling on the Cyprus

“guarantor powers to do their utmost to support efforts to ultimately bring the Cyprus issue to a settlement and bring peace and prosperity to all Cypriots.”

We are one of those guarantor powers, of course, and we have a long and honourable record of working for a settlement. From September, we will also have a new high commissioner, Mr Irfan Siddiq. I wish Mr Siddiq well and look forward to meeting him in the near future. I urge him and the Government to increase efforts to bring the two sides together and work on facilitating confidence-building measures. We know that the two sides can work together effectively when there is a common interest; this was demonstrated clearly during the pandemic.

In the meantime, we could help the economically vital tourism from the UK to the north by addressing a problem at Ercan Airport. We could remove the requirement that all passengers travelling from the UK to Ercan in northern Cyprus must deplane with all their baggage to undergo security checks in Turkey. The UK imposed that restriction; we could lift it ourselves if we chose. I know from conversations with President Tatar that his Administration would comply with any conditions that HMG might have. This would not solve the Cyprus problem, of course, but it would bring some economic relief to the north and demonstrate our willingness to provide practical help. I commend it to the Minister and hand over to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.