A new year, a new era for the UK and Cyprus

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When I arrived in Cyprus in 2018, I said that my mission was to build a strong forward-looking and modern relationship between Britain and Cyprus for the post-Brexit period. On 31 January last year Britain left the EU, and this New Year’s Day we left the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Brexit is complete, and the new era in UK-Cyprus relations has begun.

Since the 2016 referendum, we’ve been preparing for a new relationship with our European partners. The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), announced on Christmas Eve, helps shape this future, bringing new stability and certainty to our relationship.

This is the biggest free trade deal ever agreed by both sides, worth over €730 billion. It is the first the EU has agreed with another trading partner on a zero tariff zero quota basis. That is a historic achievement.

The UK-EU Agreement sets out the framework for a new partnership of friendly cooperation based on our shared history and in the face of common interests and threats. As such it complements and reinforces the already strong foundations in the UK-Cyprus relationship.

Because the fact is that our unique UK-Cyrus relationship was always about much more than a shared membership of the European Union. It is built on shared history, common values and legal systems, joint membership of the Commonwealth, and above all on a rich web of people to people relations.

At the heart of those personal relations are the connections between our diaspora communities and ex-pats and through the many thousands of British-educated Cypriot professionals. For the next generation, UK universities will continue to welcome their valued Cypriot student body. What’s more, the British Council are helping grow Trans-National Education partnerships with Cypriot institutions, allowing the benefits of a UK education and qualification to be achieved right here in Cyprus.

We have an impressive record of UK-Cyprus science and research collaboration, and strong links between scientists in both countries. We want to do more, bilaterally and through our continuing participation in the Horizon Europe programme. We will explore with the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy and with the university rectors how we can work with Cyprus to expand student exchanges, research projects and joint innovation for the shared benefit of both societies.

We are also partners in defence. The Memorandum of Understanding on the Enhancement of Defence and Security Co-operation signed in 2019 allows us to work more closely together to address common defence and security challenges and collaborate on training, capability development and crisis planning. Our cooperation was vividly illustrated last October with the largest ever Royal Navy deployment to Cypriot waters. Our 2021 ambition remains just as high, with plans for training alongside each other in the land, sea and air domains and defence education courses to be delivered in the UK and Cyprus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has always been clear that as the UK opens a new chapter of its national story we will fully shoulder our responsibilities as a dynamic, problem-solving, force for good in the world. This means working with partners, including Cyprus, on shared global goals and in support and defence of shared values. The COVID-19 pandemic is uppermost in everybody’s minds as Britain takes on the presidency of the G7. This year the UK will also lead the way internationally when we host the international climate change negotiations in Glasgow. ‘COP26’ will be the world’s largest ever climate change conference. We will be encouraging other countries to follow our own lead and commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

On all these challenges there is real scope for the UK and Cyprus to strengthen collaboration. I welcome the efforts that Cyprus is making to lead regional collaboration between scientists on climate change in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and the possibilities for this initiative to complement COP26.

Moreover, as attention focuses on next steps to resolve the Cyprus problem, Cypriots can count on the UK to keep playing a full and constructive role in support of a just and viable solution. We are fully supportive of UN efforts to convene a 5+1 meeting. We want such a meeting to lead rapidly to substantive negotiations. Only through reunification will Cyprus be able to achieve its full potential as a hub of prosperity and stability in this vitally strategic region.

Commending the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement to the Westminster Parliament, PM Boris Johnson told MPs that Britain can now be the best friend and ally the EU could have. Far from marking the parting of ways 2021 holds many possibilities for a new age in UK-EU cooperation and friendship. I am determined that Cyprus will be at the heart of these friendly ties.

*The article was published in Kathimerini’s print edition on 10 January and on the newspaper’s website in Greek.

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