Britain seeks to strengthen ties with Poland ahead of Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and with Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo. [Reuters]

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May will discuss deeper co-operation with her Polish counterpart in defence, security and trade on Monday (28 November), seeking common ground to underpin relations between the two countries after Brexit.

May and Beata Szydlo will focus on the implications of the British vote in June to leave the European Union and defence issues, Downing Street said.

“I am determined that Brexit will not weaken our relationship with Poland, rather it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen it,” May said in a statement ahead of the Downing Street meeting.

“(The summit) marks the start of a new chapter in our relations and we will work even more closely together to ensure the security and prosperity of our nations in the years ahead.”

Ties between the two countries have broadened since Poland joined the European Union in 2004.

An estimated 831,000 Poles lived in Britain in 2015, an increase of 750,000 on the number in 2004, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Poland overtook India as the most common non-UK place of birth for people living in Britain last year, and as such Poles were at the centre of a referendum debate focused on freedom of movement in the EU and record levels of immigration.

In the days following June’s vote to leave the EU, the Polish embassy in London expressed deep concerned about what it said were incidents of xenophobic abuse directed against the Polish community.

May will reiterate her condemnation of attacks against Poles on Monday, Number 10 said, and highlight the valuable role they play in business, medicine, academia and the arts.

“We will never forget the Polish pilots who braved the skies alongside us during World War Two, standing up for freedom and democracy in Europe, nor the valuable contribution made by so many Poles in our country today,” she said.

The leaders will also give further details about the planned deployment of a British infantry company to Poland to help secure NATO’s eastern flanks, Downing Street said.

Szydlo’s government had viewed Britain as a focus of its foreign policy in the EU since it came to power last year, in contrast to the previous, centrist cabinet’s emphasis on Germany.

Szydlo said in July she was satisfied that London would remain Poland’s strategic partner on issues such as Ukraine, security policy and migration.

Weimar Triangle

Last August, German, French and Polish foreign ministers vowed to increase ties between their countries when Britain leaves the EU to secure a safer and more effective union.

“Confronted by unparallelled challenges in Europe… (we must) intensify cooperation and create a new drive,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Jean-Marc Ayrault and Witold Waszczykowski said in a joint statement.

They were gathered in the eastern German town of Weimar to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the “Weimar Triangle” political forum.

They vowed to “reinforce the foundations of European integration… aspiring to a more flexible EU that reflects the different ambitions of member states regarding increased integration” once Britain had left the bloc.

The most widely accepted idea is for a two-speed Europe to emerge, with the 19 countries sharing the single currency at its core.

But talks between the 27 EU nations remaining in the bloc are likely to be challenging, as Berlin’s preferred vision of a centralised, federal Europe clashes with proposals for a confederation of nation states popular among leaders of eastern EU members.

Brexit pushes EU towards multiple unions

As the EU enters a period of reflection after the UK referendum, some of its members seem to be moving towards a more variable geometry under which they seek to align by regional affinity.

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