Photographer: Petros Karadjias/AP Photo

Brexit Raises Questions About U.K. Sovereign Bases on Cyprus

  • Hard Brexit would create limbo for status of U.K. bases
  • Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides speaks in interview

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Cyprus and the U.K. will begin talks next week on the status of the two British sovereign bases on the eastern Mediterranean island after Brexit, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said.

“It matters for Cyprus if it’s a hard or soft Brexit,” Kasoulides said in a telephone interview. Agreement between the U.K. and Cyprus on the status of the bases will be part of the withdrawal deal, Kasoulides said.

The two sovereign bases, which cover 3 percent of the geographically strategic island, are home to Cypriot citizens as well as U.K. soldiers. If the U.K. walks away from Brexit talks without a deal, any agreement between Cyprus and Britain won’t go into effect, leaving the status of the bases unclear and the residency rights of Cypriots living there in question, Kasoulides said.

The Cyprus issue is a microcosm of the complexity of Brexit, which has ramifications few had foreseen before last year’s referendum. Gibraltar, the British enclave off the southern coast of Spain, also poses thorny negotiating questions, while one of the trickiest matters in the first phase of talks has been what the U.K.’s new land border with the EU will look like -- slicing through the island of Ireland.

Cyprus, Ireland and Spain are the only three EU countries that have been given the green light to conduct bilateral talks with the U.K. on a Brexit-related issue, the minister said.

Stranded Farms

In the case of Cyprus, if there’s no overall Brexit deal, Cypriot farmers producing goods in the base areas may find themselves stranded beyond the reach of EU agricultural policy, with implications for exports. Cypriots who work and own property on the bases may find their rights on the bases in doubt.

Cyprus wants to protect the rights of its citizens on the bases by maintaining the status quo that was agreed when the country joined the EU in 2004, and is optimistic the U.K. will agree, Kasoulides said. 

U.K. retained two sovereign base areas on Cyprus under the 1960 treaty of independence granted to its former colony, and the zones have British Overseas Territory status.
If the two countries fail to reach agreement, then they may have to revert to the status of the bases under the 1960 treaty. That wouldn’t cover issues such as EU agricultural policy, as the treaty pre-dates EU membership.

Still, Kasoulides believes the U.K. and the EU will agree an overall exit deal, and “progress has been made in the ongoing Brexit talks.” Negotiations in Brussels resume next week.

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