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19 May, 2024
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British expertise on the table as Leo Docherty speaks to Kathimerini

Ready to give practical support to Nicosia to set up the national sanctions authority

Marina Economides

Marina Economides

In an interview with "K" newspaper, Leo Docherty, the British Minister for Europe, highlighted the British commitment to closer collaboration, emphasizing the range of areas where British expertise and cooperation can contribute to addressing issues such as combating illegal financing and exploring support structures for enforcement or addressing potential sanctions evasion. The UK Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation's offer of education and expertise to support our Cypriot partners in establishing a national sanctions enforcement authority is an example of the UK's dedication to closer cooperation," said Docherty during his visit to Cyprus and his first meeting with the new government. He clarified that the United Kingdom has no reason to object to the European Union's increased involvement in the Cyprus issue if the parties agree that such involvement is beneficial.

Discussing the recent developments in Varosha, Docherty noted that if the Security Council identifies new violations, there should be an appropriate response. However, he acknowledged that we all understand the problem will not be solved through sanctions, statements, or resolutions.

1. Three years after Brexit, concerns remain over the impact on the UK-Cyprus bilateral relationship. How do you assess the situation?

The UK-Cyprus bilateral relationship remains strong and deep. This is best demonstrated by our joint commitment to defense, with visits by the Royal Navy's flagships Queen Elizabeth and HMS Albion, as well as joint exercises with the Cypriot National Guard. We also share values on human rights, including the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding last year to protect LGBT+ rights. Moreover, we are working closely together on specific issues such as supporting victims of rape and sexual assault through professional training visits from the UK. However, there is more we can do together to benefit both our countries, particularly in the fight against climate change, security, and trade.

2. But hasn't trade been negatively impacted?

The impact on trade is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a negative effect worldwide. However, we are witnessing a rebound in trade between the UK and Cyprus, and the demand for British products has remained strong throughout. We have also seen increased activity in healthcare and digital health, with the exchange of expertise, products, and scientific research. The UK is building on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Windsor Framework to enter a new phase in our post-Brexit relationships in Europe. We are closely collaborating with our European partners to uphold the stability, security, and prosperity of our continent.

3. The Governments of the UK and Cyprus also signed an overarching Memorandum of Understanding last November. What are the next steps in implementing this MoU?

This Memorandum of Understanding is an important tool for deepening the already strong relationship between the UK and Cyprus. When I met with President Christodoulides, we agreed to start implementing this agreement, which covers various areas including education, trade, maritime affairs, justice affairs, and climate change. We have already begun working closely with Cypriot ministries to identify areas for further cooperation ahead of the first Strategic Dialogue between our countries scheduled for November this year.

4. The crisis in Sudan offered an opportunity for the two countries to cooperate on humanitarian response. Are you satisfied with Cyprus' contribution to the evacuation operation?

The operation to evacuate civilians fleeing the war in Sudan was the longest and largest conducted by any Western country. We successfully evacuated 2,450 people, including 1,200 from 20 different countries. The combination of the UK's military assets on the island and Cyprus' infrastructure and civilian evacuation experience contributed to this operation's success. I would like to once again express my gratitude to Cyprus for activating the Estia Plan and for all its efforts and contributions to a successful evacuation.

5. Have the UK authorities shared information with their Cypriot counterparts regarding sanctions against Cypriot individuals and entities?

Since the invasion of Ukraine, we have closely coordinated with our EU and G7 partners to adopt sanctions aimed at cutting off funding to Putin's war machine. The UK cooperates closely with Cyprus on sanctions policy, but the decision regarding sanctions was made by the UK. The UK and Cyprus have established longstanding channels for information sharing, including in relation to sanctions evasion, money laundering, and other law enforcement matters. We continue to discuss ways to enhance our collaboration in these areas with our Cypriot partners, but we cannot comment on individual operational cases.

6. Are there more Cypriot individuals and/or companies that could be facing sanctions soon?

The UK is focused on working with our partners to detect and put a stop to sanctions circumventions, including the implementation of new sanctions targeting enablers and facilitators. We will continue to investigate evidence of sanctions circumvention and avoidance, taking action when necessary. However, we do not comment on future designations.

7. Is the UK providing any expertise on sanctions implementation to Cyprus?

We highly value our cooperation with Cypriot authorities in tackling sanctions evasion, and we are working together towards our common goal of constraining Russia's capacity to wage its illegal war. The UK offers expertise and partnership in several areas, ranging from tackling illicit finance to supporting structures for investigating evasion and enforcing sanctions. An example of the UK's commitment to closer collaboration is the offer of training and expertise from the UK's Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation to support our Cypriot partners' efforts in establishing a national sanctions implementation unit.

8. There is growing concern about developments in Varosha. Does the UK believe it is time for the United Nations Security Council to take action against violations of its own resolutions by Turkey?

We closely monitor developments in Varosha and understand the sensitivities surrounding the fenced-off city and its status. The UK drafted a presidential statement on behalf of the UN Security Council when the Turkish Cypriot authorities opened Varosha, thereby violating relevant resolutions. If the Security Council identifies new violations, an appropriate response should be considered. However, we all recognize that the problem will not be solved through sanctions, statements, or resolutions. The UK will continue to support the UN-led process for a just and lasting settlement to the Cyprus issue, based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation model, ensuring political equality for Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

9. President Christodoulides is pushing for a more active EU role in the settlement process. Have you discussed this proposal with the President?

President Christodoulides has briefed both myself and the British High Commissioner on his idea. It is worth noting that the EU has played a role in settlement negotiations in the past and has contributed to significant convergences, particularly regarding acquis implementation. If both sides agree that a more active EU engagement in the settlement process would be beneficial, the UK has no objection to such a proposal.

[This article was first published in Kathimerini's printed Sunday edition]

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