Which political party should British Turks be backing? General Election 2019 T-VINE Special Report

With Britain’s General Election fast approaching, T-VINE looked into the major parties’ records on Turkey and Cyprus to offer British Turkish voters a more informed choice at the polls on Thursday, 12 December 2019.

Main parties, main policies: who wants what?

The Conservatives led by Boris Johnson are campaigning on a platform to “Get Brexit Done” and “Unleash Britain’s Potential”. The Tories have vowed to implement Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, saying it is “the only one on the table … signed, sealed and ready.”

The Conservatives have also promised funding for 50,000 nurses, 50 million extra GP appointments per year, 20,000 more police and to set up an Australian-style points system on immigration. They have also pledged to deliver clean energy solutions and infrastructure, and not to raise VAT, income tax or National Insurance.

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn are promising to build “a fairer Britain that cares for all, where wealth and power are shared,” focusing on the needs of “the many, not the few”.  The party say they will secure a “sensible” Brexit deal, put it to the public in a second referendum and implement the people’s decision afterwards.

Labour have also promised to increase health sector spending “by an average 4.3% a year” with an additional £1.6 billion annually to improve mental health treatment, and a guarantee of annual real-terms pay rises for NHS staff. The party have also promised to extend paid maternity leave to 12 months, and provide 30 hours of free pre-school education for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds every week. They have also pledged to lead the world in fighting climate change.

The Liberal Democrats are aiming to peel off disaffected remain voters from both Labour and the Conservatives with their “Stop Brexit, Build a Brighter Future” manifesto. The strongly anti-Brexit party insists that “There is no Brexit deal that will ever be as good as the deal we currently have as a member of the European Union” and promises to revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU if they win a parliamentary majority. Failing that, the party has pledged to fight for a second referendum on Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats are also promising “free school meals to all children in primary education and to all secondary school children whose families receive Universal Credit”. The party pledges to ensure all teachers can spot mental health issues and that pupils can immediately access support at school. The party have also announced plans to reach “at least 80 per cent renewable electricity in the UK by 2030.”

The manifestos

Turkey and Cyprus do not feature much in any party manifestos. The Conservative programme does not include Turkey at all, but mentions Cyprus in passing, promising to “continue to support international initiatives to achieve reconciliation, stability and justice across the world, and in current or former conflict zones such as Cyprus”.

Labour’s manifesto does the reverse, not mentioning Cyprus, but referring to Turkey. Labour criticises Turkey’s operations in Syria and reprimands the Conservatives on this issue without offering a Turkey-specific policy: “The treatment of the Kurdish people in Syria including by Turkey … has been met with total inaction and apathy by the Tories.”

The Liberal Democrat manifesto makes no reference to Cyprus or Turkey, but slams the US for “abandoning Kurdish allies in Syria”. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, however, have promised to recognise an independent state of Palestine and pursue a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

From the limited information available in their manifestos, the Tories seem to hint at a push to reunite Cyprus, whereas Labour and the Liberal Democrats have expressed sympathies for Kurdish elements in Syria that are in conflict with Turkey.

Party Cyprus broadcasts

The parties have clarified their positions on Cyprus by issuing election video messages to the Greek Cypriot campaign group the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK (NFCUK) outlining their policy plans for the island.

The Cyprus spokesmen for the Conservative and Labour parties the Rt Hon Christopher Pincher and Fabian Hamilton respectively, expressed support for the island to become a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in line with previous peace plans.

Both speakers made a point of calling the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ President Mustafa Akıncı “Mr Akıncı” rather than “President”, while referring to the Greek Cypriot leader as “President Anastasiades.” By using labels like these, the pair made clear that both parties are sticking to the same old view of Turkish Cypriots as a component to be integrated into a single Cypriot state rather than an independent entity in and of themselves: in short, nothing new.

Both were also critical of Turkey’s drilling for oil near Cyprus’ coast, accusing the country of violating the Republic of Cyprus’ “Exclusive Economic Zone.” Mr Hamilton went a step further, saying Labour support targeted EU measures against Turkey on this matter and showed a marked pro-Greek Cypriot bias when saying that his party “continues to seek an end to the occupation” by which he meant the presence of Turkish forces — seen by many Turkish Cypriots as their only security guarantee —on the island. The Labour spokesman also praised Presidents Akıncı and Anastasiades for meeting in Berlin in November to discuss the next steps towards reviving reunification talks.

Below, L-R: Christopher Pincher (Conservative), Fabian Hamilton (Labour), & Chuka Umunna (Liberal Democrat) & their Cyprus clips aimed at UK Greek Cypriots

The Liberal Democrat spokesman and former Labour MP Chuka Umunna sent a different message. Referring to UK Cypriots as “of course strong Remainers” Mr Umunna used his message to re-affirm the Liberal Democrats’ main policy of stopping Brexit without mentioning Cyprus once. Despite not offering any Cyprus-specific pledges in the video, the Liberal Democrat politician appeared neutral on the Cyprus issue, if only by dint of neglecting it completely.

If these messages are anything to go by, the Conservatives are offering more of the same on Cyprus, backing reunification or the status quo. Labour enthusiastically backs a united island, but comes across as distinctly more hostile to Turkey and disinterested in Turkish Cypriot safety concerns and political equality. The Liberal Democrats appear to have little to say to any Cypriots at all unless they are against Brexit!

Where do the leaders stand?

Party leaders’ personal positions could also impact future policies on Turkey or Cyprus.

Boris Johnson —himself of Ottoman descent— has made positive remarks about Turkey in recent years, but has unashamedly used the country as a political football. Despite being a longstanding proponent of Turkish EU accession, the former London Mayor was accused of xenophobic scaremongering with claims that ‘millions of Turkish migrants could enter Britain’ if Turkey successfully joined the EU.

Denying the allegations, Mr Johnson co-wrote a letter to then Prime Minister David Cameron with fellow Conservative Brexiteer Michael Gove claiming that “The public will draw the reasonable conclusion that the only way to avoid having common borders with Turkey is to vote leave and take back control on 23 June”.

Boris Johnson & his Vote Leave team caused huge offence to British Turks with their xenophobic claims about Turkey & the EU before the Brexit referendum

Mr Johnson later backed Turkey’s EU bid again as Foreign Secretary just months after the referendum on a visit to Ankara, saying “Britain will remain committed to helping Turkey’s path towards accession.”

On Cyprus, Mr Johnson publicly backed reunification, praising the “courage and determination of the leaders of both communities for taking part in reconciliation talks in Geneva in 2017, and highlighting the importance of “both communities feeling secure about their futures”. He also visited the island and met with both leaders in 2016, further familiarising himself with the issues.

In October of this year, the Prime Minister sent the British Turkish Cypriot Community “warm wishes” with “congratulations to all the nominees and winners” at the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations UK’s (CTCA UK) 2nd Awards Gala, lauding the event as a “great opportunity to recognise the community’s achievements.” Mr Johnson is the only party leader to have sent such congratulations, neither Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, nor Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats provided support messages of any kind towards the gala, despite having been invited to do so by the CTCA UK.

The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has a controversial record on Turkey in particular due to his long-term association with sympathisers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has waged intermittent insurgencies against the Turkish state since 1984 and is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Britain, the EU, Turkey and America.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s positions on the PKK, Turkish forces in Cyprus & overt Greek Cypriot sympathies leave him as the least Turkish and Turkish Cypriot friendly leader”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supports the release of terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan


Mr Corbyn has backed campaigns to free the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and called on the government to review the organisation’s place on the proscribed organisations list in Parliament in 2007. These activities have called Mr Corbyn’s position on Turkey into question and attracted criticism from within his party, with Turkish Cypriot-origin Labour Councillor Mete Coban claiming that “Jeremy Corbyn has never been a friend of Turkey” during a panel discussion in 2016.

More recently, he has spoken out about Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, writing in early October that he was “deeply concerned at the actions of the Turkish military in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria and the security of the Kurdish people”, while spectacularly failing to acknowledge Turkish security concerns. He has since called for sanctions against Turkey for its actions.

His record on Cyprus is equally contentious. Speaking at the Famagusta-UK Association in October 2016, Mr Corbyn referred to Turkey’s 1974 intervention in Cyprus to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution as an “invasion” several times.

He also recounted his efforts at the time of the intervention to pressure the British Government to “take a far stronger attitude towards Turkey” on the issue, adding “I believed that then, I’ve believed it ever since, I believe it now. [Shadow Foreign Secretary] Emily [Thornberry] and I in government will make sure that we carry out that responsibility”.

On the issue of reconciliation, he said that “The Annan Plan [to reunite Cyprus] was rejected by the majority of [Greek] Cypriots because it didn’t meet the requirements of the [Greek] Cypriot people as a whole,” but neglected to mention the show of good faith by the Turkish Cypriot community who voted for the plan. Mr Corbyn added that reconciliation “has to be re-thought, there has to be a new plan put together, It’s not going to work unless it is acceptable to everybody: that has to be the basis on which a new plan is developed and that’s one that we’ll be working on in opposition as well hopefully in government in the near future.” Mr Corbyn’s remarks here and elsewhere demonstrate his support for the Greek Cypriot cause, but less so for Turkish Cypriot rights and concerns.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is the most balanced of the 3 main leaders when it comes to Turkish issues, raising the international isolation of Turkish Cypriots in Parliament

Lib Dem leader Jo Swanson


By contrast Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has made sympathetic remarks towards Turkish Cypriots on the issue of the 2004 Annan Plan referendums. In a 2009 Parliamentary speech she said “Turkish Cypriots obviously feel very disillusioned, having voted yes to the Annan plan. They continue to be very politically isolated and economically disadvantaged … they look across the green line to the Greek Cypriots who enjoy the full benefits of EU membership and who are flourishing economically and socially. Obviously, that situation leads to genuine grievances.” But Ms Swinson also questioned the need for the presence in Cyprus of “such a huge number of Turkish troops” during her speech.

Despite the embarrassing episode over Brexit, Boris Johnson appears broadly the most Turkish and Turkish Cypriot-friendly party leader. Jo Swinson has also earned her credentials by acknowledging the unfair situation of the Turkish Cypriots, while Jeremy Corbyn’s positions on the PKK, Turkish forces in Cyprus and overt Greek Cypriot sympathies leave him as the least Turkish and Turkish Cypriot friendly leader.

MPs: the ones to watch!

MPs from various parties have also shown their positions on Turkey and Cyprus by either signing or tabling Early Day Motions (EDMs) used by MPs to draw attention to a given issue by calling for a parliamentary debate.

A number of MPs have supported EDMs with clear biases against Turkey. The former Labour MP and Corbyn ally Chris Williamson who is standing independently for Derby North—after being expelled from Labour amid anti-Semitism allegations —and Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate for Glasgow South West Chris Stephens have been two of Parliament’s staunchest anti-Turkey members.

Corbyn ally Chris Williamson (pictured below) & Glasgow South West Chris Stephens have been two of Parliament’s staunchest anti-Turkey members

Chris Williamson was expelled from the Labour Party for antisemitism


In the last two years the pair have either tabled or signed 5 of the same EDMs slamming Turkey, one of which called on the British Government to place trade sanctions on the country and review UK-Turkey relations. More controversially, Mr Stephens tabled an EDM, backed by Mr Williamson, referring to Abdullah Öcalan as “the Kurdish leader,” representing him as the leader of Turkey’s Kurds, rather than head of the PKK, inaccurately trivialising Turkey’s conflict with the PKK as a war between Turks and Kurds. Kurds make up around 20% of Turkey’s population: just like their Turkish neighbours, Kurds vote for both government and opposition parties, and while many have sympathies towards the PKK, there are many who do not.

Both MPs have also been behind motions that misrepresent Turkey’s military operations against positions held by the Syrian branch of the PKK, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). One of these EDMs, tabled by Mr Williamson — then a Labour MP — when Turkish forces moved into Afrin in Northern Syria, accused Turkey of carrying out a “genocidal invasion” against Kurds. The motion also condemned “the silence of the international community … which will legitimise the violation of human and fundamental rights”, hypocritically ignoring allegations of human rights abuses in YPG-controlled areas made by Human Rights Watch in 2014, including arbitrary arrests of YPG opponents, unsolved abductions and murders.

The first of these three motions was backed by 6 Labour and 5 SNP MPs, the second was signed by 14 Labour MPs including Edmonton candidate and Corbyn ally Kate Osamor, 20 SNP MPs, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, the Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley, Liberal Democrat MPs Tom Brake and Wera Hobhouse and 4 Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru MPs.  Labour and SNP MPs were also the majority of the signatories of the third EDM. The supporters of these biased motions have come overwhelmingly from left-leaning parties whether Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green or Celtic nationalists like the SNP or Plaid Cymru.

On Cyprus, left-leaning MPs have also led on positive, neutral and negative EDMs towards Turkish Cypriots. The Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green Catherine West tabled a neutral motion congratulating both Greek and Turkish Cypriots for “opening the Deryneia and Apliki Aplic checkpoints” on 12 November 2018 and other confidence-building measures.

In 2017, Tottenham MP, Labour’s David Lammy tabled another EDM congratulating Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, for agreeing to the Geneva talks. The motion was signed by 13 Labour MPs, 3 Conservatives, including Sir Peter Bottomley, Tom Brake and one other Liberal Democrat, and 10 SNP MPs.

British Turks will play a key role in determining who wins the Enfield Southgate battle between Labour’s Bambos Charalambous (below, left) & former Tory MP David Burrowes (below, right)

As Labour MP for Enfield Southgate, Bambos Charalambous — himself of Greek Cypriot heritage — tabled a positive motion that year praising the joint work of Greek and Turkish Cypriots investigating cases of people who went missing during the conflict. But Mr Charalambous, caused uproar among Turkish Cypriots by appearing with other MPs in an NFCUK propaganda video claiming Turkey’s 1974 Cyprus intervention was an “invasion.”

Pro-Greek Cypriot biases however are by no means exclusive to Labour politicians. While both candidates have called Northern Cyprus “illegally occupied,” Mr Charalambous’ Conservative rival this election, David Burrowes’ record on Cyprus has been equally poor, if not worse. Mr Burrowes publicly spoke of “Turks’ destruction” of Christian heritage sites during and after a trip to Cyprus, but neglected to mention Greek Cypriot desecration of Islamic sites, including the demolition of Paphos Grand Mosque to build a car park.

Making matters worse, when challenged on this matter he replied, “I understand the destruction of [Islamic] sites for infrastructure projects.” It has been claimed that Mr Burrowes’ anti-Turkish stances cost him his Enfield Southgate seat to Mr Charalambous at the last general election after Turkish Cypriot-origin voters turned on him.

With a slim majority of just 353 votes in 2017, pro-Greek Cypriot Tory hardliner MP Theresa Villiers is at risk of losing her Chipping Barnet seat on 12 December

Anti-Turkish Conservative MP Theresa Villiers defends the slenderest of margins in Chipping Barnet


Another pro-Greek Cypriot Tory hardliner MP, Theresa Villiers is also at risk of losing her Chipping Barnet seat this election, defending a slim majority of just 353 votes in 2017.

She appeared in the infamous NFCUK video, and has actively lobbied the UK Government against Turkish Cypriots, over the North Cypriot town of Güzelyurt/Morphou.

She called on former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tomake representations to his Turkish counterpart to support the inclusion of the town of Morphou in the territory forming the Greek Cypriot side of any bizonal arrangement in Cyprus in an agreed negotiated settlement for the island.

The MP has consistently campaigned for the Greek Cypriot cause and received thousands of pounds in donations from British Greek Cypriots. She has also made multiple visits to Cyprus at the expense of both the Municipality of Morphou to attend rallies for its incorporation into Greek Cypriot territory, and the Republic of Cyprus Parliament. Despite repeated requests from her Turkish Cypriot constituents, she has failed to show any balance on Cyprus.

Another Tory politician, however, has been a firm friend of the Turkish Cypriot cause. The Chingford and Woodford Green MP Iain Duncan Smith has stood up for the right of British Turkish Cypriots to fly from the UK directly into the TRNC’s Ercan Airport. At present passengers flying to Ercan are forced to make inconvenient touch-downs in Turkey and change planes, which cause difficulties for elderly passengers, those with additional mobility needs and parents with young children. Mr Duncan Smith has called this “manifestly unfair” when Greek Cypriots have direct flights from Britain to Larnaca and Paphos.

Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith has championed direct flights to North Cyprus for the past 3 years

Chingford and Woodford Green MP Iain Duncan Smith


The ex-Tory leader has organised meetings between Turkish Cypriot community representatives and former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, as well as the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to discuss the issue. While many British politicians of every stripe have tended only to praise Turkish Cypriots for their efforts towards reuniting with Greek Cypriots, Iain Duncan Smith is one of the few MPs that has actually campaigned for Turkish Cypriots and the TRNC in and of themselves, without the attached string of reconciliation with the south. The record of many politicians who campaign for Palestinian and Kurdish autonomy, yet only offer Turkish Cypriots reunification or the status quo is particularly ironic.

Some new faces?

This election could also bring four new MPs with heritage from Turkey or North Cyprus into Parliament. Two Labour and two Tory, these candidates are vying for seats across Britain. The candidates are Hackney Councillor Feryal Demirci Clark who is standing as the Labour candidate for Enfield North, Labour Mayor of Lambeth Ibrahim Dogus who is running in West Bromwich, Gönül Daniels the Conservative candidate for the North Welsh seat of Arfon, and Neva Novaky, who is standing as the Conservative candidate in Garston and Halewood, in Liverpool.

Labour hopefuls (L-R) Ibrahim Doğuş & Feryal Demirci Clark


Cllr Demirci Clark has mostly focused on local issues, rarely commenting on foreign affairs. “I am a Kurdish Alevi woman from Turkey, that is my identity, but it won’t be my only focus. I aim to focus on health especially” she told a London Turkish newspaper. Still, the councillor has been active within London’s Turkish-speaking community, attending Ramadan fast-breaking meals at Dalston Suleymaniye Mosque and visiting the Turkish Cypriot Community Centre in Harringay, and could be well placed to represent British Turk’s concerns on local and national issues.

However, she has also harshly criticised Turkey’s most recent operations in Northern Syria on social media, calling on Western leaders to “take action” to stop its campaign, accusing Turkey of “ethnic cleansing”.

Labour’s other candidate, Ibrahim Dogus a ‘kebab tycoon’ of Kurdish descent from Elbistan in Turkey has been active on the country’s Kurdish Issue for many years. Like Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Osamor, Mr Dogus has supported a controversial campaign for the release of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Addressing the 2019 Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival, he said:

“Abdullah Öcalan is the leader of a movement that fights for freedom and equality. Öcalan is the Mandela of the Kurdish people, and like Mandela, he fights for human dignity, equality and freedom, just like the Tolpuddle martyrs did.”

His campaign in West Bromwich has been marred by questions around his personal business management, with accusations of paying ‘poverty wages’ to his employees. He also made national news over tax evasion allegations that he attempted to smuggle £11,500 out of the UK, some of it hidden in a sock.

If elected, it is likely both will join Labour parliamentary colleagues who are critical of Turkey.

Conservative hopefuls (L-R) Neva Novaky & Gonul Daniels


When questioned about Turkey as the Tory candidate for Edmonton at the last election, education campaigner and Conservative candidate Gonul Daniels, who is of Turkish Cypriot origin, told T-VINE “If elected, I would be an MP who understands Cyprus, Turkey and the Turkish community” adding that after Brexit, “There is a real opportunity for Turkey and the UK to forge an even closer relationship over the coming years; with both being outside of the EU.” If she is elected in Arfon, British Turks can expect Mrs Daniels to push for Britain to build stronger ties with Turkey: she has already started by working to establish a summer school in London for Turkish professionals to come and study English.

Ankara-born Neva Novaky (nee Sadıkoğlu) stood as a Tory candidate for the South Eastin this year’s European Parliament (UK) elections in May. She describes herself as a “champion of localism, individual freedoms and a free marketeer”, who backs Brexit. She is the Secretary General of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Union’s Committee of the Regions, and a visiting fellow at Localis Think-Tank. She is also the Chair of the Conservative Women’s Organisation in her local association.

With the positions of the main party leaders, party promises, statements and actions on Turkey, Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots all outlined above, all you need to do now, is get out there and vote!