Wednesday

7th Dec 2016

UK and Poland discuss post-Brexit workers' rights

  • May (l) and Szydlo at a earlier meeting in Warsaw in July (Photo: Number 10)

The UK has told Poland its nationals can stay after Brexit if British nationals can stay in the EU. It also pledged to take a tough line on Russia.

“I have … reiterated my plan to guarantee the rights of Poles - and other Europeans - currently living in the UK so long as the rights of British citizens living across the EU are guaranteed”, British prime minister Theresa May told press after meeting her Polish counterpart, Beata Szydlo, in London on Monday (28 November).

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  • Khan said City of London traders feared Brexit "cliff-edge" (Photo: David Harmantas)

May said she had recently “welcomed members of the Polish community here to Downing Street and paid tribute to the significant contribution they make to our nation”.

“Our ties with Poland are rooted deeply in our shared history. We will never forget the Polish pilots who braved the skies alongside us during World War Two”, she added, after the pair visited a Polish war memorial at a British airbase earlier in the day.

Some 830,000 Polish people have settled in the UK following EU enlargement in 2004.

Calls to reduce EU immigration were at the heart of the UK’s referendum to leave the EU in June, with British police recording a spike in hate crime against Polish nationals and other minorities since the vote.

The issue of continued rights for EU workers in the UK in return for British access to the single market is also set to dominate next year’s talks on the terms of Britain’s EU departure.

Szydlo said in an opinion article in The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, earlier on Monday that Poles living in the UK “should not be made to feel like hostages”.

She said at the press conference with May that “the most important thing [after Brexit] is the guarantees for the Polish citizens who are living and working in the United Kingdom … Of course, these guarantees would need to be reciprocal”.

She said the xenophobic attacks on Polish people in the UK were “very sad” and thanked May for helping “to make sure that the Polish community is safe”.

She also called for the Polish language to be taught in British schools.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who hails from the opposition Labour party, told the Bloomberg news agency the same day that May’s government had offered him private assurances on EU workers’ rights.

“I have been told this by members of the government: it’s inconceivable - that’s the word used, ‘inconceivable’ - that you [an EU resident] would be forced to leave London, and that certainty is crucial”, he said.

“I am saying to you, if you’re a Londoner who’s originally from the European Union, you’re welcome here and you’re always going to be welcome”, he added.

’Russian aggression’

May, in her press conference, also pledged to maintain a tough line on Russia despite Brexit and despite the election of the Russia-friendly Donald Trump in the US.

She said the UK would send 150 soldiers to Poland next April as part of a Nato battalion to “deter Russian aggression by reinforcing Europe’s eastern flank”.

“We have also agreed to continue to work together to secure peace and stability in Ukraine and we both remain committed to maintaining sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented”, she added, referring to the Minsk ceasefire deal on the conflict.

The British-Polish summit saw Szydlo bring over six senior ministers to London and is to be followed by a similar event in Warsaw.

May has declined to reveal her EU exit strategy until the start of the exit talks, due at the end of March next year.

She said on Monday the negotiations would include Britain’s contribution to EU security via information-sharing with Europol, the EU’s joint police agency in The Hague.

"There will be issues around the justice and home affairs area where we're party to arrangements within the European Union as a member of the EU at the moment where we'll have to consider what the future relationship will be," she said.

“Europol is one of those, we are a major contributor to Europol”, she added.

Khan, in his Bloomberg interview, voiced concern that unless there was a “transitional deal” on the City of London’s rights to keep trading in Europe, then British-based businesses could suffer.

“There needs to be some transition because we can’t afford to just fall off a cliff edge,” he said.

Leaked notes

Leaked government notes the same day indicated that May was “loath” to make a transitional accord, however.

The information came from a page of hand-written notes being carried to a meeting in Downing Street by an aide to Mark Field, a senior government MP, that were snapped by a long-lens photographer.

“Transitional - loath to do it”, the notes said.

They said Britain was “unlikely” to stay in the single market and that France would try to poach business from the UK’s financial services sector.

“We think it's unlikely we'll be offered single market”, the notes said. They said a deal on services would be “harder” than on manufacturing “because French hoping for business”.

They added that the EU negotiating team, led by French politician Michel Barnier, was “Very French. Need fair process guaranteed”.

They also indicated the UK would try to impose immigration curbs on the EU while asking to retain single market rights, using an English idiom normally used to pour scorn on impossible demands.

“What’s the model? Have cake and eat it,” the notes said.

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