Nicosia on Wednesday officially protested to Britain over “unacceptable” comments made by a Foreign Office minister that questioned the right of Cyprus to exploit its energy wealth.
“An official demarche is being issued by the Republic of Cyprus today (Wednesday) from the Foreign Ministry through the British High Commissioner and the president will send the necessary letter to the (UK) Prime Minister,” Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told reporters.
“The High Commissioner of the United Kingdom has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry for the necessary representations to his country over the unfortunate statements by the deputy minister,” he added.
On Tuesday Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades criticized as “unacceptable” remarks by Britain's Europe Minister Sir Alan Duncan that cast doubt over the east Mediterranean island’s offshore economic rights.
Anastasiades said his government would lodge a complaint to British Prime Minister Theresa May over Duncan's remarks that have riled a Nicosia looking for support after Turkey’s bid to drill within the island’s exclusive economic zone.
He said Nicosia has been a strong ally to Britain during the Brexit crisis but now London was not following the “correct policy” on Cyprus.
Once colonial ruler Britain retains two strategically vital sovereign military bases on the island, there are around 70,000 British nationals living on Cyprus, while over 1.3 million UK tourists visit every year.
Duncan told UK MPs in parliament on Tuesday: “The position of the UK is that, in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, exploratory drilling should not proceed in any area where sovereignty is under dispute.”
Anastasiades has slammed Turkey's drilling bid inside Cyprus waters as a "second invasion" and garnered support from fellow European Union leaders.
Washington, Israel and Egypt have all come out against Turkey’s incursion into the island’s EEZ.
Turkey says its actions abide by international law and that it's drilling inside its continental shelf, but it does not recognize Cyprus as a sovereign and EU member state.
Cyprus has accelerated the development of offshore gas deposits and has signed deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil that have seen them carry out exploratory drilling.
US energy giant ExxonMobil discovered the largest natural gas reserve off the coast of Cyprus in February.
The "world-class discovery" is one of the largest finds worldwide in recent years with an estimated five to eight trillion cubic feet (141.5 to 226.5 cubic metres) of natural gas.
Ankara argues that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island’s natural wealth.
In February 2018, a drill ship for Italy's Eni abandoned an attempt to search for gas off Cyprus after it was blocked by Turkish warships.
UN-brokered efforts to reunify the island failed at a summit in July 2017, there have been peace talks since then.