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Open letter to UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The following Lobby for Cyprus open letter was sent to the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs regarding Turkey’s illegal operations in the EEZ of Cyprus and the recent statement in Parliament by the UK Minister for Europe.

Exclusive Economic Zone / continental shelf and hydrocarbon exploration blocks of the Republic of Cyprus

Τhe Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH

17 May 2019

Dear Minister

I am writing to you regarding the reply given by the Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan KCMG MP, Minister for Europe, in response to the oral question asked by Bambos Charalambos MP during Foreign Office Questions on Tuesday 14 May 2019 regarding Turkey’s invasion of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus.

The response given by Sir Alan was as follows: “The position of the UK is that, in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, exploratory drilling should not proceed in any area where sovereignty is under dispute.”

I expected more from Sir Alan, a Minister of a country which prides itself on standing up for international law and the rule of law generally.

In September 2018, in blatant disregard for international law, Turkey begun threatening to drill for hydrocarbons in the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus. On or about the 4 May 2019, the Turkish vessel Fatih and its support ships entered the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus. In 1974, Turkey systematically breached the law by invading, occupying and ethno-religiously cleansing 36 percent of the territory and 57 percent of the coastline of the Republic of Cyprus. Now, Turkey has sent its drilling ship and support vessels to break the law once again, not least by engaging in theft, plunder and pillage.

Turkey has no moral or legal right to appropriate for itself hydrocarbons lawfully belonging to the Republic of Cyprus. Bearing in mind that Turkey has been the occupying power in the northern area of Cyprus since 1974, any arbitrary extraction of Cypriot natural gas by Turkey would not only violate the United Nations Charter of 1945 and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (UNCLOS). It would also constitute a war crime. Under Article 33.2 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949: “Pillage is prohibited”.  Moreover, under Article 8.2(b)(v) of the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court of 1998, pillage is a war crime.

It is no surprise that Turkey has failed to sign either UNCLOS or the Rome Statute.

On 4 May 2019, Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice President of the EU Commission, expressed “grave concern over Turkey’s announced intention to carry out drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus”. Ms Mogherini urgently called on Turkey “to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone and refrain from any such illegal action to which the European Union will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.”

It was most disappointing that the UK has not also taken a principled stance on this latest violation by Turkey. On the contrary, the ministerial answer by Sir Alan effectively constitutes a hostile act with the ability to destabilise an already volatile region.

Sir Alan’s answer appears to have been a premeditated and considered response which challenges the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, a fellow member of the United Nations, Council of Europe, European Union and the Commonwealth. Indeed, Sir Alan appears to have engaged in a dangerous form of appeasement reminiscent of the UK’s capitulation to Germany when Hitler was bullying Czechoslovakia in 1938.

What is already clear is that Sir Alan’s answer has damaged British interests by undermining Anglo-Cypriot relations and fuelling calls for the Republic of Cyprus to take robust action over the remnants of the Crown Colony of Cyprus known as ‘the Sovereign Base Areas’.

Sir Alan and you, as his ministerial superior, must correct the public record by confirming that the UK fully respects – and does not dispute – the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. Both of you should also issue an urgent warning directed towards Turkey.  The warning must include a demand that Turkey ceases its operations in the EEZ of the Republic.

Outer limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone / continental shelf; and hydrocarbon exploration blocks of Republic of Cyprus

I remind you that paragraph (2) of the House of Commons Resolution on Ministerial Accountability, as agreed on 19 March 1997, and paragraph 1.3.c of the Ministerial Code, as updated in January 2018, both state the following:

It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.

Accordingly, subject to your response to this letter, I reserve the right to refer this matter to the Prime Minister under paragraph 1.4 of the Ministerial Code under which:

It is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code. If there is an allegation about a breach of the Code, and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary feels that it warrants further investigation, she will refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests.

The UK and the international organisations to which it belongs must additionally take concrete action to hold Turkey accountable. As the ‘penholder’ of UN Security Council Resolutions regarding Cyprus, the UK is in a strong position to initiate such action.

Area shaded green shows Turkish claims to continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea; area shaded red shows blocks illegally licensed by Turkey’s subordinate occupation regime in Cyprus

Measures must be imposed forthwith on Turkey, for example via punitive measures, Turkey must also be punished for acting as an occupying power and as a sustained source of instability in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, particularly its forcibly displaced citizens, have long paid the price of international tolerance of Turkey. It is time that this tolerance ended.

If, however, the UK fails to act, it risks aligning itself ever more closely with a rogue state. Its reputation as a guardian of international law will also be tarnished, if not destroyed.

I look forward to your response to this letter.

Lobby for Cyprus

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