50 years ago today: Independence for Cyprus

Apologies for the lack of posts; July has meant holidays as well as hard work here at the Archive! We’re back with a snippet of 50-year-old history – albeit one that has continued to make headlines ever since…

Images: Pages 1-4 of the July 1960, no. 82 edition of Commonwealth Affairs [PUB 136/2]

60 was a significant year in Britain’s post-War decolonisation process; British Somaliland gained independence on 26 June, Cyprus on 16 August, and Nigeria on 1 October, while both Ghana and South Africa voted to become republics.

In many cases, British rule provided only a fragile veneer of unity over inter-communal tensions – Cyprus is a case in point. Although Cyprus had been under British administration since 1878 and a British Crown Colony from 1925, from 1955 British troops were confronted with the EOKA campaign by Greek Cypriots led by Archbishop Makarios (the future first president of independent Cyprus) in support of ‘enosis’ – independence and union with Greece – while the Turkish Cypriots responded with a counter campaign in favour of ‘Taksim’ – partition.

Following the failure of the 1955 Tripartite Conference between British, Turkish and Greek officials, the Conservative Government was attacked by the Labour Opposition for unnecessary delay. The Government was reluctant to see either solution implemented but keen to withdraw from Cyprus while guaranteeing the future of the British military presence on the island.

Following several years of violence and even a state of emergency, the Prime Minister put forward the Macmillan Plan in June 1958. The plan was rejected by both sides but proved to be a starting point for discussions for a workable alternative solution to union with Greece or partition. Eventually agreement was reached in London for a power-sharing compromise which guaranteed the rights of the Turkish Cypriot minority. The agreement (text available here) was signed by British, Greek, Turkish and Cypriot leaders on 19 February 1959 and came into effect at midnight on 16 August, 1960.

On 12 March 1959, Conservative Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox-Boyd attended a meeting of the Party’s Commonwealth Affairs Committee at the House of Commons to brief Members on the details of the recently agreed plan: ‘He felt that Britain had gained a good deal out of the Agreement. Above all, concord was now established between Britain, Greece and Turkey, and this was an immense gain to NATO. Then Britain had obtained the bases she wanted; also both ENOSIS and partition were now ‘out’.

However, he said the Agreement had only come about because of the war-weariness of the majority of the population, and a growing fear of Communist infiltration by the Greek Cypriots: ‘He agreed that Socialist statements [i.e., in Britain] had made it more difficult to get agreement but he did not think that in the debate we should over stress the Party line: nor would he favour harmful references to Makarios. The great thing now was to look forward to a happier era for Cyprus. It would not be all plan sailing and he would not mind if a word of warning was sounded in the debate…’ [Commonwealth Affairs Committee minutes, 12 March, 1959: CCO 507/1/1].

The arrangement survived for just three years before inter-communal violence broke out again and British troops returned to a peace-keeping role on the island as part of a UN contingent.

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