8 January 2024

Planes, trains and trade deals – it’s time to reconnect with Northern Cyprus

By Rt Hon David Jones MP

The United Kingdom has a longstanding relationship with in the island of Cyprus. We continue to maintain sovereign military bases there, and much of the island’s infrastructure is based on foundations that we built. For example, Ercan International Airport in the North evolved out of RAF Tymbou, a WW2 era aerodrome that was converted into a passenger terminal following Cypriot independence in 1960. 

However, since the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’s (TRNC) declaration of independence in 1983, all direct flights from the UK to Ercan and other airports in the north of the island have ceased.

It is time for the UK to restore flights to the TRNC. It makes no sense for the current onerous and arbitrary system to continue.

For 10 years, between 2007 and 2017, we took a pragmatic approach to the situation.

Passengers used to be able to take a flight from a UK airport to Northern Cyprus. The plane would land in Turkey, allow some to disembark, and those wishing to travel on to Cyprus could remain on the plane – and this was legal, as they were classed as two separate flights.

The bags of those travelling to Northern Cyprus by this method formerly had labels with ‘ECN’ (for Ercan) listed as the destination. ECN was also listed as a destination on Gatwick and Stansted’s departure boards. 

However, in 2017, the government decided to require final disembarkation in Turkey, ending the sensible and flexible nature of previous policy. No other major country has such a requirement.

The harshness of the policy was exposed during the Covid pandemic. Hundreds of British citizens and Turkish Cypriots were prevented from being repatriated and were left stranded. By comparison, Germany sent aircraft directly to the TRNC to repatriate its nationals with only a brief landing in Turkey to fulfil international obligations. 

Not only is the UK the only nation to have such an inflexible position on flights to the TRNC, the British Government also refuses to open up trade relations with the TRNC. Deliberately cutting the UK off from a potential friendly market runs counter to what many voted for in the Brexit referendum. People wanted the UK to step back onto the global stage and be a world leader in free trade and international affairs. 

Why does this matter? Firstly, the Government’s current position on flights arbitrarily penalises 300,000 Turkish Cypriots living in Britain, and those living in Northern Cyprus – including 15,000 British expats.

Secondly, the Government should consider the wider strategic positioning that increased flexibility would allow. Continuing to isolate a fledgling state from the Western world is not in our interest, especially when it has long historic and strategic ties to the UK. We did not reject Kosovo or Bosnia when they declared independence under similar circumstances. We should be much less inclined to do so in the case of Northern Cyprus, with which we have such long established links and such strong mutual understanding.

Rejecting the TRNC runs counter to our national interest. Continuing to ignore the opportunities of improved relations with the TRNC creates a void that actors such as Iran, Russia and China are keen to exploit. Whenever the West is wilfully absent, rogue states and their proxies move in – a consequence we should be keen to prevent.

Re-establishing direct flights to, and forging new trade relations with, the TRNC are two sensible steps the UK should take at the soonest opportunity.

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David Jones is the Deputy Chairman of the European Research Group and Member of Parliament (MP) for Clwyd West.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.