UK POLITICIANS DEMAND DIRECT ERCAN FLIGHTS

  Jun 5, 2024 9:28 am Ibrar Younas 2581
Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and ex-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw among cross-party group of 54 British politicians calling on TRNC-UK travel restrictions to be lifted

UK POLITICIANS DEMAND DIRECT ERCAN FLIGHTS

By ELTAN HALİL

 

THE British government should allow direct flights between the TRNC and the UK, a group of 54 British politicians have urged.

The request was set out in a letter to Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron and signed by, among others, senior figures from the Conservative, Labour, Democratic Unionist, Liberal Democrat, Green, and Reform UK parties in an unprecedented move.

They include political heavyweights Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative Party who also served as the Work and Pensions Secretary for six years under Cameron; and Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006 during former Labour Party leader Sir Tony Blair’s premiership.

Other notable signatories to the letter sent to Lord Cameron, signed before the dissolution of the UK Parliament ahead of the July 4 general election, which means all seats in the House of Commons are now vacant, include former first minister of Northern Ireland Baroness Foster, former Green Party leader Baroness Bennett, Sir George Howarth, former shadow minister and former chair of the TRNC All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Yasmin Qureshi, adviser to the UK Board of Trade and vice-chairman of the Conservative Party responsible for its international relations Lord Hannan, former chief whip of the House of Lords Lord Taylor, former Democratic Unionist Party chief whip Sammy Wilson, TRNC APPG co-chair Lord Northbrook, and other TRNC APPG members including Lord Rogan, Lord Balfe and Graham Stringer.

The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Cyprus Today, expresses support for the commencement of direct flights, pointing out that Ercan airport is the “largest airport on the island of Cyprus”, following its upgrade in July last year.

Britain has a “unique responsibility” to ensure that “all Cypriots, regardless of their ethnicity, have equality in the fulfilment of their potential and the right to live their lives free from arbitrary discrimination,” the letter states.

It notes that “300,000 Turkish Cypriots live in the UK, whilst 15,000 British expats live in Northern Cyprus” and that  “Turkish Cypriots see Britain as a historically loyal defender of their interests and have been calling on the UK Government as a mediator to resolve the issue of direct flights”.

The British government “currently operates one of the most restrictive policies of any country in Europe when it comes to air travel to Ercan” the letter states.

It recalls how until 2017, passengers “wishing to visit relatives, seek medical help, or holiday in Northern Cyprus” could “board an aircraft that would depart the UK, and briefly stop in Türkiye, before flying to Ercan”.

 

‘CRUEL AND UNNECESSARY’

 

Since then, travel to and from the UK has become an “arduous chore” and passengers “must now land in Türkiye, disembark for fresh security checks, before boarding a different aircraft at another gate”.  For the “elderly and infirm” this is “cruel and unnecessary” the politicians assert.

The letter then refers to a pledge made by Blair in the aftermath of the 2004 twin referendums on the “Annan Plan” to unite Cyprus – which Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of and Greek Cypriots rejected – when Blair said: “We must act now to end the isolation of Northern Cyprus. That means lifting the embargoes in respect to air travel.”

Two decades on, the UK Government has “not fulfilled its commitment to the Turkish Cypriot people and has been unwilling to discuss any tempering of measures”.

The letter continues: “If the UK permits flights to non-UN member states such as Kosovo, and to countries that it doesn’t recognise such as Taiwan, why not to Northern Cyprus?

“The new Ercan Airport abides by international aviation security standards, and safely hosts hundreds of thousands of passengers each year.”

The British politicians also urge Lord Cameron to consider the wider implications of the UK government’s refusal to allow direct flights.

Referring to the British Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the letter states that these are “two of the UK’s most significant assets when it comes to regional security” and that “if the British Government is unwilling to meaningfully engage with Turkish Cypriots, we risk letting countries such as Russia and Iran do so instead – fundamentally challenging the UK’s strategic foothold in the eastern Mediterranean”.

The letter concludes by calling on the UK government,  “in the interests of fairness and our national security”, to “send a clear message that it upholds the commitments it has made to the Turkish Cypriots and show others that our influence in Cyprus is not waning, but steadfast”.

“We call on the Government to facilitate direct flights to Ercan Airport and make travel easier for hundreds of thousands of people,” it stresses.

Çetin Ramadan, co-chair of the UK-based Freedom and Fairness for Northern Cyprus pressure group, said in a statement to this newspaper: “It is time that the UK ends their regressive ban on flights to the TRNC. This is something that was promised 20 years ago and has yet to be fulfilled.

“It should be a scandal that successive UK governments have ignored this pledge to Turkish Cypriots in the UK and Brits on the island. The UK has an obligation to all Cypriots as the mother nation of the two states of modern-day Cyprus and, by treaty, as an international guarantor of our rights. . . The onerous and unnecessary flight rules only create a cruel burden for those wishing to visit family members or go on holiday.

“The UK has one of the harshest positions on the TRNC in Europe, a policy position that is completely out of line and out of step with its past, present and future.

“UK parties must commit to allowing direct flights to restart and we will repeat this call to whoever forms the next government.”

The UK insists that allowing direct flights between the UK and Ercan airport without the approval of the Greek Cypriot-run “Republic of Cyprus” would put it in breach of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

This stance was most recently reaffirmed by British Minister for Europe Nusrat Ghani on May 20.

Responding to a written parliamentary question from the Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson asking for the UK’s position on direct air travel to Kosovo, Taiwan, North Cyprus and other non-UN member states, Ghani replied that the situations in Kosovo, Taiwan and Cyprus are “different and require different approaches”.

“There are direct flights between the UK and Kosovo, and the UK and Taiwan,” she said. “Under the Chicago Convention, direct flights are not permitted between the UK and the north of Cyprus. To allow otherwise would be counter to the UK’s international obligations.”



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