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Tell-all interview with Christopher Pincher

British Minister affirms readiness for Brexit, assures ongoing relationship with Cyprus

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

Brexit would not change the relationship between the United Kingdom and Cyprus, according to British Minister Christopher Pincher, who also told Kathimerini in an interview that he deplored Turkish drilling activity in the waters around the island.

Pincher, the British Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, gave a tell-all interview to Kathimerini Cyprus, responding to questions by Marina Economides on a whole host of issues, including Brexit, the Cyprus problem, and Cypriot students studying in the UK.

The EU has said that the UK government will have to bear full responsibility for a no-deal Brexit. Are you ready for a no-deal Brexit or will you come forward with revised proposals within days? 

It is the top priority of the UK Government to get ready for Brexit on 31 October with or without a deal.  We would prefer to leave with a deal, and continue to work in an energetic and determined way to achieve one, but we must be prepared for all eventualities. We are better prepared than most think and have accelerated Brexit preparations so that we will be ready.  The PM and Taoiseach had a detailed and constructive discussion on Thursday, 10 October. Both continue to believe that a deal is in everybody’s interest. They agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.

EU students will not face a Brexit penalty this year, but what will happen the following years? Is there a plan for those who want to start their studies after 2020-2021? 

Deal or No Deal, EU students starting their courses this academic year (2019/20) or next year (2020-2021) will have guaranteed home fee status and financial support for the duration of their studies. The future framework for the UK-EU relationship is set out in the Political Declaration - published on 25 November 2018. This states that the UK wishes to retain close bonds with the EU in a number of areas including education. It is important to remember that while we have chosen to leave the EU, we are not leaving Europe and our universities thrive on the diversity of being global institutions. It is testament to our world-leading higher education system that so many students from abroad choose to come and study in the UK.  A new report this week suggests Cyprus is the 10th most important source country for international students in the UK: we want Cypriots to continue to choose a UK education.

Brexit and the post Brexit era has increased uncertainty in Cyprus for several reasons. How will it affect the relationship between the two countries? 

I understand that Brexit is causing some uncertainty. That’s one of the reasons we would like the UK to leave the EU on 31 October with a deal. But I want to be clear: Brexit will not change the strong bilateral relationship between the UK and Cyprus.  The UK and Cyprus have shared values and strong people to people links. We are partners in trade, we are both members of the Commonwealth and we are confident that our ties will remain strong and will continue to grow after 31 October. 

Have you discussed a formula to ensure the rights and interests of Cypriots citizens residing or working in the Bases?   

The existing Withdrawal Agreement includes a Protocol on the Sovereign Base Areas and provides a basis for continuing current arrangements. . In a no deal, the UK is committed to maintaining the status quo as far as possible for the SBAs, and continuing to uphold the Treaty of Establishment that underpins current arrangements. We firmly believe this is the best means of minimising any disruption to Cyprus and the SBAs.

Turkish drillship Yavuz has returned to Cyprus’ EEZ, to carry out drilling operations inside block 7, located off the south-western coast. What does UK government say about Turkish activities? 

As I discussed with President Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Christodoulides during my recent visit, I deplore Turkish drilling activity in the waters around Cyprus. Our priority is to see the situation de-escalated. We continue to recognise the sovereign right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit the oil and gas in its internationally agreed Exclusive Economic Zone. We also continue to attach the utmost importance to securing a long-term settlement to the division of Cyprus and urge all parties to look for ways by which the development of the island’s resources can support the search for a settlement for the benefit of all Cypriots. 

Concerning the Cyprus issue, there is a big chance of a tripartite meeting with the UN Secretary-General and a five-party conference with the guarantor powers by the end of the year. What will be the UK’s reaction? 

We welcome the positive meeting between the leaders on 9 August and their separate meetings with the UN Secretary-General at the UN General Assembly. We believe there is a window of opportunity for further progress this autumn. The UK remains a strong supporter of a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue, based on the internationally accepted model of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality, and we stand ready to play a positive role in any upcoming progress, as and when requested.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlout Cavusoglou said that in a five-party conference all options should be on the table. Will you insist that the only type of settlement is the bizonal bicommunal federation? 

The internationally accepted model of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality is currently the only option on the table. Both Cypriot leaders remain committed to that model.  Important progress was made on a settlement up to and including the Conference on Cyprus in Crans Montana in 2017. The parties came closer than ever to reaching an agreement and narrowed down the last remaining core issues to resolve. These of course include some of the most difficult issues such as how political equality is expressed, and future security arrangements for a united Cyprus. We hope there will be an opportunity during contacts this autumn to pick up on that work and discuss a way forward which all parties can agree with. 

During Cyprus talks in Crans Montana you said that you have no objection to withdrawing from your role of guarantor power in Cyprus if the two communities demand it. Has your position changed through years? 

Our position has not changed. We have always been clear that the UK will support whatever security arrangements the two sides and other Guarantor Powers can agree on in order to achieve a settlement of the Cyprus issue. 

The interview was first published by Kathimerini Cyprus on 13 October 2019

Cyprus  |  Britain  |  Pincher  |  Economides  |  Brexit  |  drilling  |  EEZ  |  Turkey

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