British Prime Minister Theresa May travelled to Warsaw on Thursday (28 July) in a bid to reassure the Polish government that the hundreds of thousands of Poles living in Britain still had a post-Brexit future there.
“I want to be clear that Poles living in the UK continue to be welcome and we value the contribution they make to our country,” May told reporters during a joint press conference with her Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo in Warsaw.
At some 790,000, Poles make up by far the largest community of some three million European Union migrants living in the United Kingdom and Polish is the second-most spoken language there.
Migration featured as the main hot-button issue for voters wanting Britain to leave the EU during the heated campaign in the run-up to the Brexit referendum last month.
“I fully expect and intend to be able to guarantee the rights of Polish citizens when we leave the EU,” May said, but also demanded reciprocity.
“The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the rights of British citizens living across the EU were not guaranteed,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, May had offered the same reassurances in Bratislava to her Slovak counterpart Robert Fico, whose country currently holds the rotating half-year EU presidency and has around 90,000 of its nationals living and working in Britain.
But May also stressed that “there was a very clear message from the British people in the Brexit vote that they want us to ensure that we can have some control on the movement of people from the EU into the UK in the future”.
The Polish and British prime ministers announced they had decided to hold annual bilateral summits.
May said, “I have offered to host the first of those in the UK.”
Szydlo for her part said the European Union needed to engage in some soul-searching after Brexit and make the necessary changes “to become a stronger institution”.
The bloc “has to give thought to what happened that such an important country, with such a big economy, decided to leave the European Union”, she said.