Operations At British Forces Cyprus 'Will Not Be Affected' By Brexit

Major General Rob Thomson spoke to Forces News in his first interview since taking over as Commander of British Forces Cyprus.

The new Commander of British Forces Cyprus says operations "will not be affected" by a deal or no-deal Brexit. 

Major General Rob Thomson took over from Major General James Illingworth last month. 

In his first interview since taking on the role, he told Forces News that Brexit will not change the UK's relationship with Cyprus, adding it "remains a strategically vital partner".

He described British Forces Cyprus as a "really important asset" that helps make the region, Europe and the world "more secure".

"We don't think in any way, Brexit, whether it's a deal or no deal, will change the operational outputs that we have to deliver here," said Maj Gen Thomson.

"We're going to continue delivering those and they will not be affected by Brexit.

"What the UK has got in the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus, we've got pretty much nowhere else in the world.

"It gives us a unique set of capabilities that can do things for the UK that can't be done elsewhere - so, it gives us reach as a nation, it helps us support the stability of an island in a very unstable region."

A Typhoon at RAF Akrotiri that makes up part of British Forces Cyprus (Picture: MOD).

However, Maj Gen Thomson admitted military personnel and their families living in Cyprus can expect changes post-Brexit.

He said "under deal or no deal" there will be no changes to healthcare or driving licenses for personnel and their families.

But visitors will have to apply for a "European driving permit" to be able to drive in the country if the UK leaves the European Union  (EU) without a deal.

In the event of a no-deal, the biggest change seemingly facing British Forces Cyprus is how it receives parcels and goods.

BFPO parcels 221118 CREDIT BFBS
In a no-deal scenario, personnel will be required to pay VAT on goods worth more than £17.09.

For goods worth more than £17.09, Maj Gen Thomson said personnel and their families will be required to pay VAT to the Cypriot government rather than the UK. 

Maj Gen Thomson said he expects the process will take more time.

"It'll be a little bit the worst case, three to four days," he said. 

"We've rehearsed that because it's important to get that right. 

"The first step is to make sure people are not paying VAT in the UK, as they only pay VAT here.

"Then there will be a [electronic] message system in which people will be told what they need to pay and how to pay it online."

Royal Air Force Typhoon arrives at RAF Akrotiri in support of OP Shader
Cyprus is the centre of Britain's fight against so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

While Maj Gen Thomson admits there will be "friction" post-Brexit, he says he is confident in the preparations that have been made.

"We've rehearsed the areas where we think there will be some friction and delays and we think we've got that delay and friction down to an absolute minimum," he said.

The EU has agreed to delay Brexit beyond the previous deadline of 31 October.

However, MPs are still to vote on the latest deal agreed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Maj Gen Thomson was also asked on his thoughts about issues in the region surrounding Cyprus.

The eastern Mediterranean island is close to Lebanon, Israel and Syria which is at the centre of controversy following an incursion by neighbouring Turkey.  

Maj Gen Thomson said British Forces Cyprus provides the UK with "a foot in the region" and is somewhere "to step off into operations" if needed.