President Tatar congratulates new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, as UK-Turkish Cypriot relations increasingly strained

The President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) Ersin Tatar has congratulated Liz Truss on her new appointment as the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

In a short statement President Tatar tweeted: “Congratulations on your appointment as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

“The Turkish Cypriot side looks forward to working with you as one of the guarantor countries to finding a viable settlement based on the sovereign equality and equal international status of the two sides in Cyprus for sustainable peace and stability.”

The statement masks an increasingly strained relationship between the UK and Turkish Cypriots, which resulted in Stephen Lillie, the British High Commissioner to Cyprus, being accused of having a “colonial mindset” this week.

Truss, 46, was promoted to Foreign Secretary on Wednesday by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while her predecessor Dominic Raab was named Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Justice Secretary. Truss will also remain the Minister for Women and Equalities.

The popular South West Norfolk MP becomes the first Conservative woman and the second ever female to hold the position of Foreign Secretary. The first female Foreign Secretary was Margaret Beckett, who served for a year in Tony Blair’s Labour government, from 2006 to 2007.

Prior to her current role, Truss was Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade from 2019 to 2021, overseeing post-Brexit free trade deals. One of the first deals she struck was with Turkey, helping to protect the trade between the two countries which in 2019 was worth £18.6 billion.

The Cyprus dispute will be of the first missions the new Foreign Secretary has to address. At the weekend, she will fly to New York with PM Johnson to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

President Tatar and the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades will also be in New York. The UN General Secretary António Guterres will have side line meetings with the two Cypriot leaders to try to bridge the gap between and kickstart a new round of Cyprus Talks.

The UN chief will be looking for support from Cyprus’ three Guarantor Powers: Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom. It will mean Truss having to immediately immerse herself in one of the oldest running political disputes, with relations between the UK and Turkish Cypriots extremely strained.

Turkish Cypriots accuse UK Ambassador Stephen Lillie of having a “colonial mindset”

Earlier this week, the UK’s ambassador to Cyprus Stephan Lillie was heavily criticised by the TRNC government for his comments in an interview with Greek Cypriot daily Kathimerini about supporting a “decentralised federation”.

The British High Commissioner was accused by TRNC Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu of having a “typical colonial mindset” and of “promoting the racist and bigoted Greek Cypriot policies” due to his choice of words and failing to properly take into account the views of the Turkish Cypriot side.

High Commissioner Lillie presented the UK Government’s policy in Cyprus, telling Kathimerini: “We do not support a two state solution. There is no support for that among the Greek Cypriots or in the international community. We have been talking about a highly decentralised federation, which should not be controversial, because it’s an idea that president Anastasiades also used. It deserves further discussion.

“It would allow the two communities a high degree of autonomy in terms of their day-to-day affairs, and it would preserve Cyprus as a single, internationally recognised sovereign state. That strikes the right balance between the Greek Cypriot need for one Cyprus and continuity of the independent Cyprus established in 1960, and the Turkish Cypriot wish to be in charge of the majority of their own affairs.”

In a strongly worded response to the interview, Foreign Minister Ertuğruloğlu said: “The language adopted by the High Commissioner portrays that the typical colonial mindset is still ongoing.

“Lillie’s statement that United Kingdom’s initiatives are compatible with Anastasiades’s idea of decentralized federation, demonstrates, once again, its well-known pro-Greek Cypriot policy on the Cyprus issue.

“The stance of the UK on Cyprus, as one of the guarantor countries, is unacceptable. As a matter of fact, among the guarantor countries, only Turkey fulfils the duties and obligations of being a guarantor, while the others are engaged with supporting and promoting the racist and bigoted Greek Cypriot policies.”

The TRNC Presidency also criticised Lillie’s comments, and said the UK should adopt a more neutral stance: “We expect a diplomat from a country like the United Kingdom, which has historical, legal and de facto connections with the island of Cyprus, to adopt a more sensitive, realistic and neutral approach.”