Issues with the British Bases in Cyprus

Professor Martin Blinkhorn, Lancaster University, UK, wrote the following in the very first paragraph of his Foreword for our book Cyprus: The Struggle for Self-Determination in the 1940s (Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, Germany):

Even as this introduction is being written (early July 2001), the continuing British military presence in Cyprus is once more giving rise to local unrest: a latter-day reminder, if one is needed, of a difficult colonial relationship which exploded into violence in the 1950s and, however indirectly, helped make possible the sadly divided condition of Cyprus today.

Fifteen years down the line the ‘pathbreaking book’, to use Prof. Blinkhorn’s words, is out of print, Cyprus, to be precise, is still dismembered in diverse zones of effective control, whilst Michael Falon, the British Defence Secretary, pays yet another visit to the island accentuating UK’s neo-colonial policy of benefiting from the strategic position of the island without bothering to honour any of its financial and political obligations towards the Cypriots.

Delving into the notorious British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ would require producing volumes. For those, who care, the British National Archives at Kew are rife with released British Governments’ documents that give evidence to the ‘however indirect’ engineering of the sad division of Cyprus.

In this short article we shall only trace the historical record and pose the questions that arise concerning the UK’s obligations to the enfeebled Republic of Cyprus with respect to the uninterrupted fifty five year use of the military bases of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the listening post in Ayios Nikolaos, Famagusta, the surveillance station on Mount Troodos to mention but a few of the seemingly endless list of installations and sites ‘retained by the UK’ by virtue of the Treaty of the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus (1960) and used without ‘let or hindrance’ by the British Forces ever since.

It is noteworthy that the ‘Treaty Concerning the Establishment of the RoC’ (TOE) concluded between the UK, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus is very detailed in its twelve Articles, the six Annexes, and the host of Exchanges of Notes and Declarations on the rights accorded to the British Forces both within and without the so-called Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs).

By any conceivable standards, the terminology used in the TOE pertains more to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) rather than to a text of a Treaty meant to establish a sovereign state that is the Republic of Cyprus. In order to illustrate this seminal point, let us take a closer look for example at Annex B Part II. Section I, para. 1 stipulates that the UK shall have the right to continue to use, without restriction or interference, the [Retained] Sites in the territory of the RoC listed in Schedule A to this Part of this Annex.

Paragraph 3 of Section 1 says the UK shall have the right to obtain, after consultation with the Government of the RoC, the use of such additional small Sites as the UK may, from time to time, consider technically necessary for the efficient use of its base areas and installations in the Island of Cyprus.

Moreover, the UK authorities shall have the right to exercise complete control within the Sites, including in particular the rights referred to in the succeeding paragraphs …

Most of the hundred and twenty or so pages of the TOE describe in great detail the actual and potential rights of the British military on the land, sea and air space of Cyprus.

Does all the above privileges come at a premium for the UK? Well, the British Government in the words of Selwyn Lloyd, Foreign Secretary undertook to do the following as per his statement in the House of Commons on 1st February 1960:

Subject to the clearing up of certain financial points, we have offered a grant of £7½ million to be spread over five years, together with £½ million to meet certain Turkish-Cypriot requests which both communities have endorsed. We have offered a loan of up to £2 million for financing an extension of the electricity service in the island. If Cyprus remains in the Commonwealth, she will be eligible for Commonwealth Assistance Loans.

We calculate that the earnings to Cyprus to be derived from the presence of our troops, their families, the work done in the bases, etc., will be between £15 and £20 million a year. For example, about 15,000 Cypriots will have employment within the sovereign base areas.

The grant of £7½ million in 1960 prices was never reached. It was cancelled after the third year (1963) with the British government (conveniently for her) arguing that since the Turkish Cypriots discontinued their participation in the government of the RoC – in fact in gross violation of the Treaty of Establishment and the Treaty of Guarantee, they established separatist parallel administration – the UK discontinues the payment of the promised grant.

In reality this cunning British action, or rather inaction, punished the victim of Turkish separatism, i.e. the Greek majority population of the island. As for Selwyn Lloyd’s claim that 15,000 Cypriots would be employed and that the Bases will overall contribute 15-20 million pounds annually to the Cypriot economy, this was never the case. His House of Commons early statement was misleading to say the least.

What was actually the case was that the Republic of Cyprus suffered a deadly blow as a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974 – for details of the massive losses endured – of up to 70% of output please see our anniversary article below entitled July 1974 – July 2016: Wounds of Barbaric Turkish Invasion Still Unhealed. Britain failed remarkably to take action – as it should have done as a Guarantor Power – to prevent the massive Turkish destruction.

In the world of real politics, the result of late Bulent Ecevit’s visit to London – mid July 1974 – was a foregone conclusion: Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister, by washing his hands in a Pontius Pilatus fashion, effectively gave Ecevit the green light to invade the island; a campaign of terror was unleashed by the invading Turkish Forces on the Greek population that can only be compared today to the ongoing one mounted by Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against his own population. Wouldn’t good old Harold Wilson know what was bound to happen in Cyprus if he would let the Turks have their own way? Mass murder, rape and unlawful detention of thousands of civilian Greek population – over 1500 persons still missing today? Of course he would! British intelligence was well aware of time honoured Turkish practices. Nevertheless, Wilson let those Turkish atrocities go on in Cyprus, in however an indirect way. He only ordered the British troops stationed in the Bases – which had been enjoying free use of the Cypriot roads and other facilities without paying any compensation for ten years already – to form a defensive block on the northern Dhekelia boundary just to make sure that the advancing Turkish forces would not touch the so called Eastern SBA. And indeed they did not, the Turks stopped short: to this day the ceasefire line is just north of the base boundary.

Britain has a lot to answer on its Cyprus record. With the wounds of the Turkish invasion still felt deep on the Cypriot body, Spyros Kyprianou government tabled the issue of compensation/financial assistance with the new Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher. True to her reputation as Iron Lady, late Lady Thatcher dismissed the factually backed Cypriot claim for a financial grant of 200 million pounds. The relevant Cypriot document was well prepared by then Minister of Finance Andreas Patsalides forwarded to London via the British High Commission in Nicosia. Subsequently, in an official visit to the British capital, the Cypriot high level delegation comprised of President Kyprianou and Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis – incidentally, the only official still alive who can testify the record – put the 200 million pound claim in direct talks with Margaret Thatcher.

The size of the claim was premised on the 1960 British Government undertaking in the House of Commons that the RoC should be assisted in grants according to its current needs. Consequently, with the wounds of the barbaric Turkish invasion bleeding torrentially, the needs of the RoC to get its feet back on the ground overgrew – with British indirect connivance. The Iron Lady turned down the claim counter-offering a ‘soft loan of only seven million pounds’ as Nicos Rolandis revealed to the author. Distraught, as they had been, the Cypriot leaders sustained another blow, leaving 10 Downing Street empty handed.

The Cypriot claim to a just and long overdue financial grant by the UK for the uninterrupted use of the bases, the host of other military and intelligence related installations on Cypriot soil and in addition the use of land, sea and air routes of the RoC has never been tabled since the 1980 high level meeting in London.

It is high time that the Cypriot government raised again the issue of a grant, which by now even with low estimates of annual compensation, should be running into billions. More so now that the British government of Teresa May is determined to exit the EU following the Brexit referendum.

Cyprus, which stays firmly in the EU, has its own facilities to offer in the CESDP in the region. We shall be addressing this crucial point in the following months.