“Just as I shall select my ship when I am about to go on a voyage, or my house when I propose to take a residence, so I shall choose my death when I am about to depart from life.” The words of Seneca. And while, Deo volente, the imminent departure from this life of neither British prime minister Theresa May, nor Polish prime minister Beata Szydło, is expected, the United Kingdom’s prospective departure from the EU has brought into question the rights of residence of Poles in the UK and Britons in Poland.
Thus the question of their respective citizens’ rights was an important topic of discussion when the two met in London on Monday as part of the countries’ first ever inter-governmental consultations. Among those taking part in discussions with their British counterparts were Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Development and Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz and Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, click here to know more.
Theresa May met Beata Szydło at RAF Northolt, paying the attention and respect normally accorded to the leaders of larger countries as she sought to recruit an ally in the Brexit talks which are expected to kick off once the UK services notice under article 50 of the TEU, currently expected by the end of next March. Theresa May said that she hoped an agreement would be reached on the status of the approximately one million Poles in the UK, making it now the largest immigrant group. Beata Szydło said she supported May’s calls for a reciprocal deal over rights of residence for EU nationals in the UK and Britons living elsewhere in the EU.
Szydło was careful not to stray too far from the EU line of not starting negotiations until the article 50 notice is given, which line is, of course, itself only a negotiating position. Indeed, it is nonsensical and defies logic to start the clock running without a clear idea of what the final agreement will look like. Even more so when the results of the forthcoming Italian referendum and the presidential elections in France could alter the political landscape dramatically.
Be that as it may, the two prime ministers promised deeper collaboration across business, security, defence and academic research. Szydło said: “I deeply believe that we will deepen our relations in the coming months and years,” adding: “The United Kingdom is a strategic partner for Poland regardless whether [the UK] is or is no longer in the European Union.” For her part, May said that the UK’s exit from the EU “will not weaken our relationship with Poland, rather it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen it.” Further talks will continue in Poland in the new year, according to Szydło.
Ahead of the visit, Szydło had said the talks marked a new chapter in relations between Warsaw and London, telling public broadcaster TVP Info that Britain “is remaining in Europe; it remains a strong country with which you have to have good relations.” And in an article published in The Daily Telegraph on Monday, Szydło said Poland was “saddened, probably more than any other country, with the result of the British referendum.” She added: “For us, Brexit means that supporters of reforming the EU into a more economically pragmatic organisation will soon lose an important strategic partner. But we understand and respect this decision.”
The two prime ministers also confirmed the deployment of 150 British troops to Poland as part of the NATO measures to provide support for the country amid concerns about Russian military activities. Soldiers from the Light Dragoons and a number of armoured vehicles, will be stationed in north-east Poland, close to the border with Kaliningrad, in April 2017. Such small number of troops may appear insignificant, but that is to miss the point that whereas Brother Putin might be tempted to try something on against Polish troops alone, the stakes are much higher once other NATO troops are involved.
So what has been achieved? It seems inconceivable that, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, folk will be forced to give up their residence in the UK or Poland, as the case may be. Poland needs the UK to cooperate in the interests of Poland, and the UK needs Poland as a potential helpful voice during those negotiations. Poland also needs a strong NATO and the UK, like Poland, is one of the few European countries which contributes the two per cent NATO recommended minimum of GDP to defence spending. A marriage made in heaven not, but a marriage of convenience certainly.