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Cyprus

September 9, 2014

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on introducing this debate. It is always important to debate Cypriot affairs. Those of us who represent London seats, particularly those in north London, will have large Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations; as one who contested such a seat in the last millennium, I recognise that. There are significant numbers of people of Cypriot heritage living even in my part of central London to this day. On the 40th anniversary of the division of Cyprus, one might argue that the debate comes at a time when both Turkey and Greece are at the forefront of some important international events, which I shall touch on.

The truth, to be brutally honest, is that Britain’s place in the world is not as strong as it was 40 years ago. It is probably not as strong as it was even a decade or so ago, not least given the decisions that have been made by Governments of all colours—by the current coalition Government and by the previous Labour Government—to make the cuts in defence that make us less of a world power. However, we are still a guarantor for Cyprus, as we were a guarantor for Ukraine, which is one reason why our voice cannot be entirely ignored, nor indeed our responsibilities relating to those affairs.

However, I do think one thing very profoundly. It is all very well to talk about our responsibilities, but there is an ongoing responsibility that, in my view, has been sadly lacking in political leaders on both sides of the Cypriot divide. They, too, have a responsibility to look to the future, rather than simply hark back in a negative way to the past. The Turkish and Greek Cypriot people have not been well served by their political class over the past four decades. They need leadership with a firm focus on where the future should lie. I say that as someone with heritage from eastern Europe: my late mother was an ethnic German from what is now Poland. It is thankful that many of the millions of people from that background do not constantly hark back to lands in what is now Poland. The biggest message I have, which I hope is a robust message, which should be put across by the UN, the US and British politicians to politicians in Cyprus is, “For heaven’s sake, you owe it as a responsibility to the people who live in your islands not to constantly hark back to slights and difficulties of the past, but to try to ensure the world is a better place and one in which Cypriots, of Turkish or Greek background, can benefit in the future.” The children and grandchildren of those living there today will hopefully have a better time, not simply because of the mineral resources that we have mentioned.

As I have said, the eurozone crisis clearly is not behind us. It is entering a new phase, and the Greek economy still requires a boost from the European Central Bank to buy its own bonds. I hope Cyprus can be an element of that thinking. It is timely that political leaders in this country now recognise that what is happening in Iraq and Syria will not be over in a matter of weeks or months; it will be there for years to come. We have to ensure that Turkey is a part of that discussion and a part of that coalition: Turkey is, of course, a member of NATO, as is Greece. Turkey also has a significant Kurdish minority. If we are to make common ground with Kurds in Iraq, we have to recognise the sensitivities in Turkey. One hopes that, in bringing them together, Cyprus can be part of the solution for the long term, rather than an ongoing problem.

It is fair to say—perhaps understandably, given the relative populations in Enfield Southgate and in Edmonton—that criticisms have been made of President Erdogan, but there has been intransigence on both sides. It is important that we progress. I have had the opportunity to visit both sides of the island. Most recently, I spent a few days last September as a guest of the representative office in London of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, to see that part of the island, having seen parts of what we would call Greek Cyprus in previous years. There are tremendous opportunities there. The economy is clearly having its difficulties, but potentially could thrive, not just on the back of mineral resources. Tourism or the educational offering that can be provided on both sides of Cyprus are important ways forward. I would like Turkish Cyprus not to be seen as a pariah state. An important way to encourage some cross-fertilisation across the island would be to ensure that more flights go directly from the UK to the northern part of Cyprus, rather than going via Istanbul, as they are currently obliged to do. That would be an important economic first step.

These debates in Parliament are important. As I say, we are a guarantor power. A significant number of Cypriots feel strongly about this issue. From my experience as a London Member of Parliament, it strikes me that many of the Turkish Cypriots I encounter—this applies to many Greek Cypriots as well—do not harp on the past. They are looking to make their lives here in the UK. They are proud of their Cypriot heritage. They have family in Cyprus and often have business interests there. I hope the UK can play a small part, but that has to be by having a firm eye towards a better future, which is clearly in the grasp of the people of Cyprus. Above all, it has to be by ending a sense of grievance and blame. I hope we can play a small part in pushing it further forward, but that future ultimately must be in the hands of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot political class. If there is one small message that can come from the debate—whether from the Front or Back Benches—it is that we hope they will take their responsibilities seriously to ensure that better days lie ahead in the whole of Cyprus.