Newly elected members joined stalwart friends of Cyprus in Parliament last night, committing themselves to the cause of reunifying the island.
At an annual event organised by the National Federation of Cypriots in the Palace of Westminster, Parliamentarians addressed members of the Cypriot community and later took questions from the audience, in what amounted to a positive demonstration that political will and commitment among new MPs is strong.
The meeting started with Federation President Peter Droussiotis congratulating MPs on their election or re-election and welcoming all guests before paying tribute to Rudi Vis, the former MP for Finchley. A minute’s silence was held in recognition of Mr Vis’s unfaltering commitment to healing division on the island.
Mr Droussiotis then called upon the new Government to meet its special responsibilities to Cyprus, saying:
“Turkey is Europe’s biggest emerging economy, a fact that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, acknowledged in his first keynote speech after the General Election. He said that Britain will make a particular effort to work with Turkey. But Turkey’s political and economic importance does not give it the right to seek to hold Cyprus and the Cypriot people hostage to further its own geo-strategic interests.
“We expect the British Government to fulfil its special responsibilities to Cyprus and for Mr Hague to tell Turkey that it must recognise Cyprus and end its occupation in the north of the island.”
Chris Bryant MP, Shadow Minister for Europe, then related his dismay at Mr Talat’s replacement by Dervis Eroglu as the Turkish Cypriot community’s leader in negotiations in Cyprus, saying that it was “very painful for us to see the two leaders of the two communities having to start work again”. He added:
“A two state solution is no solution. That would simply reward bad behaviour and condone the present situation. We need to see an end to division, we need to see completely free trade and traffic and everyone should be able to enjoy the prosperity that the European Union can bring.”
He also stated his fear that Turkey could start “looking to the East, and not to the EU” if Turkey was made to feel that it was not welcome in the European Union.
Theresa Villiers, Transport Minister and MP for Chipping Barnet, welcomed the presence of new MPs and reiterated her support for the reunification of Cyprus. She added that she had recently spoken with Foreign Office ministers to emphasise the importance of reaching a solution in Cyprus, before praising the efforts of the Cypriot community in the UK in sustaining a voice for Cyprus here in what she described as a “vital struggle to see progress to remedy injustice in Cyprus”.
Nick de Bois, the newly elected MP for Enfield North, stated that one of his aims in standing for election was to make sure that Cyprus was firmly on the agenda of the Government. He related his pride in the fact that the Cyprus problem had featured not only in the Conservative manifesto for the general election but also in the coalition agreement of the new Government. Mr de Bois went on to commit to “representing the views of his Cypriot constituents” in the years to come.
Jim Sheridan, Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, said that politicians also had a role to educate British people in the “horrible history” of the Cyprus problem. He further stated:
“I do not accept the argument that because Turkey is a large country and a large economy, that they can then ignore the atrocities that have taken place and the occupation.”
He added that “if they [Turkey] want to join the club of Europe then they have to meet the criteria,” before calling for more action on accounting for people who went missing during the invasion of 1974 and are still unaccounted for. He also decried the destruction of the cultural and religious heritage in the occupied area.
Hendon’s new MP, Matthew Offord, then addressed the meeting, saying that “it is not acceptable that Turkey doesn’t allow ships and other vessels from the island [of Cyprus] to use its ports” and that it showed “double standards when considering the recent flotilla that went to Israel and the comments Turkey made to Israel”.
He said that the United States has an important role to play but that the EU is also key, adding his support for Turkey’s accession to the EU only upon three conditions being satisfied: the reunification of Cyprus, the return of property to its rightful owners and the missing people to be accounted for.
The recently re-elected Member for Enfield Southgate, David Burrowes MP, recognised that progress has been made regarding the matter of missing people but that “information and reconciliation are two very different things”. He called for MPs to help to grow support among parliamentary colleagues to swell the political understanding of the Cyprus cause in Parliament.
Mr Burrowes added that “Dr Eroglu’s succession of Mr Talat is a negative development because it meant that we lost the dynamic of the talks between Mr Talat and President Christofias,” a dynamic that “had led us away from the blame game”.
Mike Freer MP said that he shared colleagues’ concerns that “Turkey should face West and not East, but we should not allow Turkey to join the EU while it continues to occupy an EU state.”
Mr Freer said, “Part of my job is to ensure that the Foreign Secretary honours his commitments to Cyprus”.
Brandon Lewis MP told the audience how we was new to the issues of the division of Cyprus but was impressed at the strength of cross-party support for the reunification of Cyprus, before committing his efforts to help the cause in Westminster.
Longstanding friend of Cyprus, Andy Love MP, told of his “heavy heart” at having to once again address a meeting whose theme was the division of Cyprus, rather than to celebrate its reunification. Mr Love called on the Government to make Cyprus a much bigger priority because:
“The UK has a special role in Cyprus. We were there at the creation of the independent Republic of Cyprus, we are a guarantor power and that gives us a special responsibility. And Britain has a role in the world … as a member of the EU and the Security Council of the UN, where it must push and cajole all parties in the Cyprus problem to make sure that a proper dialogue takes place.”
However, he added, there is also a need for US influence because it has “a critical relation ship with Turkey” which can be used to “push Turkey in the right direction.”
Mark Menzies MP entered Parliament at the general election in May, representing the Fylde constituency in Lancashire. Mr Menzies declared that he had neither a constituency interest or a great deal of knowledge about the Cyprus problem but that he had come to the event to “listen and to take away information” about Cyprus. He said that, by doing so, he would be able to “support my colleagues in sometimes making Ministers’ lives uncomfortable and keeping Cyprus on the agenda.”
Stating that the Cyprus problem was clearly “a marathon, not a sprint” he committed himself in helping to “keep things moving.”
Alan Meale MP was the last Parliamentarian to address the event. He praised the Cypriot community in their efforts, citing the presence of many young people at the event as an example of how “you must be doing something right!”
Mr Meale said he looked forward to the Cyprus Presidency of the EU (in 2012), because “it will give us impetus… at present, the international community is just making excuses, allowing the status quo to remain.”
However, he added that there are reasons for optimism, telling of the positive discussions that he had held with Vice-President Biden of the US last year, as part of a delegation to Washington.
He praised the new MPs for their contributions to the event and for committing their efforts to the cause of reunifying Cyprus.
Following questions from members of the Cypriot community, Mr Droussiotis closed the meeting, expressing his pleasure at the support from new Members of Parliament.