Sunak faces backlash over cancelling Greek visit amid diplomatic row

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of being politically motivated and disrespectful after he cancelled his planned visit to Greece at the last minute, amid a diplomatic row over the status of Northern Cyprus.

Sunak’s decision sparks outrage in Athens

Sunak was scheduled to arrive in Athens on Wednesday for a two-day visit, where he was expected to meet with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other officials, as well as attend a business forum and visit the Acropolis Museum. However, on Tuesday night, Sunak’s office announced that he had decided to postpone his trip, citing “domestic priorities” as the reason.

Sunak faces backlash over cancelling Greek visit amid diplomatic row
Sunak faces backlash over cancelling Greek visit amid diplomatic row

The announcement came just hours after Greece recalled its ambassador to London in protest of Britain’s decision to upgrade its diplomatic relations with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a breakaway state that is only recognized by Turkey and that Greece considers to be illegally occupied territory. Greece also summoned the British ambassador to Athens to express its “deep dissatisfaction” with the move, which it said violated international law and UN resolutions.

Sunak’s cancellation was seen by many in Greece as a snub and a sign of disrespect, especially since he had confirmed his visit as recently as Monday, when he spoke with Mitsotakis by phone. Some Greek media outlets and politicians also suggested that Sunak’s decision was politically motivated, as he wanted to avoid facing criticism and questions over Britain’s stance on Cyprus.

The Greek government expressed its “regret” over Sunak’s postponement, saying that it hoped to reschedule the visit soon. A spokesperson for Sunak said that the prime minister “looks forward to visiting Greece in the near future” and that he “remains committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship between the UK and Greece”.

Britain’s move on Cyprus sparks controversy

Britain’s decision to upgrade its diplomatic relations with the TRNC was announced on Monday by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who said that it was part of a “new strategic approach” to the Eastern Mediterranean region. Truss said that Britain would appoint a resident representative to the TRNC, as well as increase trade, investment, education and cultural ties. She also said that Britain would continue to support the UN-led efforts to reunify the island of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in response to a coup backed by Greece.

Truss said that Britain’s move was “not about recognition” of the TRNC, but rather about “pragmatism” and “engagement”. She said that Britain had a “unique and historic relationship” with Cyprus, as one of the three guarantor powers of the island’s independence, along with Greece and Turkey. She also said that Britain had a “strong interest” in the stability and prosperity of the region, as well as in the security of its sovereign base areas on the island.

However, Britain’s move was met with strong condemnation from both the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides, as well as from Greece, Turkey and the European Union. The Greek Cypriot government, which is internationally recognized as the sole legitimate authority on the island, said that Britain’s move was “unacceptable” and “contrary to the interests of the Cypriot people”. It also said that it would take “all necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Turkish Cypriot government, which declared its independence in 1983, said that Britain’s move was “insufficient” and “inconsistent” with its status as a guarantor power. It also said that it expected Britain to recognize the TRNC as a sovereign state and to lift the “unjust isolation” imposed on it by the international community.

Greece, which considers Cyprus to be a “strategic partner” and a “brotherly nation”, said that Britain’s move was “in violation of the principles of international law and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions”. It also said that it undermined the efforts to find a “just and viable solution” to the Cyprus problem, based on the reunification of the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

Turkey, which maintains about 35,000 troops in the northern part of the island, said that Britain’s move was “a step in the right direction” and “a positive development”. It also said that it hoped that other countries would follow Britain’s example and “respect the will and the rights of the Turkish Cypriots”.

The European Union, which admitted Cyprus as a member state in 2004, said that Britain’s move was “regrettable” and “contrary to the EU’s position”. It also said that it expected Britain to “align with the EU’s position” and to “refrain from any actions that could harm the prospects of a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue”.

Sunak faces pressure at home and abroad

Sunak’s cancellation of his visit to Greece comes at a time when he is facing pressure from various fronts, both at home and abroad. Sunak, who became prime minister in October 2023, after Boris Johnson resigned amid multiple scandals and investigations, has been struggling to deal with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis, the climate change agenda, the Brexit fallout, and the rising tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

Sunak has also been trying to maintain Britain’s global influence and reputation, as well as to forge new partnerships and alliances, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. Sunak has recently visited India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, where he signed trade deals and security agreements, and announced Britain’s intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade bloc of 11 countries.

However, Sunak’s foreign policy moves have also provoked criticism and controversy, especially from his European partners, who have accused him of being “unreliable” and “unpredictable”. Sunak’s decision to upgrade Britain’s relations with the TRNC was seen by many as a provocation and a betrayal, as well as a sign of Britain’s isolation and irrelevance in the region.

Sunak has defended his decision, saying that it was “in the best interests of the UK and the Cypriot people”. He also said that he hoped to “work constructively” with Greece and other countries to “promote peace and stability” in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, Sunak’s cancellation of his visit to Greece has cast doubt on his sincerity and credibility, and has raised questions about his ability to balance his domestic priorities and his international obligations.

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