Poland and the United Kingdom remain important partners. The political changes in Europe after 1989 awarded new dynamism to our bilateral relations. They laid the foundations for a rekindling of the close cooperation which existed between our two countries during the Second World War. The visit of President Lech Wałęsa to London in 1991 was a symbolic reaffirmation of this change. The United Kingdom supported the changes in the Polish political system, and encouraged Poland’s aspirations of becoming a member of NATO, which eventually became reality in March 1999. Poland also received strong British support in the build-up to her accession to the European Union. The British government’s decision to open the UK’s labour marker to Polish citizens without any transitional periods, immediately after Poland joined the EU in May 2004, was particularly important for Poland, and the Poles alike. This meant that a large contingent of Poles has begun to work and study in the UK, making them the second-largest group of foreign nationals in this country.
Poland and the United Kingdom, as members of the EU and NATO, have a shared outlook on many issues on the European, economic and defence agenda. Bilateral political cooperation, which takes the form of meetings between heads of state and government, government ministers, and members of parliament, creates a positive climate which is conducive to working together on a range of issues. These include maintaining Poland’s positive trade balance with the UK, intensive academic, and research and development cooperation, as well as ensuring the appropriate treatment of Poles living in the UK, that being of particular importance in the context of the referendum on the continued British membership in the EU (23 June 2016), and the negotiations relating to Brexit.
Recently, a number of important visits took place. On 28 November 2016, first-ever intergovernmental consultations took place, with the participation of Prime Minister Beata Szydło, Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, ministers of foreign affairs, the interior and administration, defence, as well as deputy ministers responsible for family, labour and social policy, and science and higher education. During their talks with their British counterparts, the most topical issues on the bilateral, economic, security and international, including European, agenda, were discussed. On 5 September 2016, minister of foreign affairs Witold Waszczykowski and minister of the interior and administration Mariusz Błaszczak paid a visit to London to meet with their British counterparts in the wake of the tragic attack on a Polish citizen in Harlow. Prime Minister Theresa May visited Warsaw in 28 June 2016 as one of her first visits abroad following stepping into the Prime Minister’s office. One should also note the meeting between Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Prime Minister David Cameron in Warsaw in December 2015, pertaining to the negotiations of new terms of the British membership of the EU (PM Cameron having already visited Warsaw in May 2015). To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, President Andrzej Duda paid a visit to London in September 2015, when he also met with Prime Minister David Cameron.
This intensive dialogue is complemented by regular, frequent meetings between our two countries’ foreign ministers, ministers for Europe, and ministers and deputy ministers across a range of government departments. Worth pointing out at this juncture is a unique formula in bilateral contacts, i.e. the quadrilateral consultations between the foreign and defence ministers of both Poland and the United Kingdom, the so-called Quadriga, whose last session took place in Edinburgh in January 2016. Furthermore, the introduction of tan even more unique formula of intergovernmental consultations must be emphasised. Cooperation between Parliaments, particularly the active work of the British-Polish and Polish-British parliamentary groups, and various committees, constitutes another important facet of the bilateral relations.
Naturally, one of the most important topics of the talks in a foreseeable future will be the negotiations on Great Britain leaving the EU, including the acquired rights of Polish citizens (and other EU nationals). Setting down the British expectations towards its future relationship with the EU is of crucial importance, as well. For Poland, it is vital that access to the single market should still require the continued realisation of the four freedoms, i.e. the freedom of movement of goods, capital, services and people.
Despite the UK’s decision expressed in the referendum on 23 June 2016, consultations on the running of the European Union remain a very important part of our mutual cooperation. We have much in common where this effort is concerned: support for the effectiveness of the EU-led activity, focus on practical projects, completion of the single market, including the digital agenda, support for EU enlargement and increasing the EU involvement in the immediate neighborhood (including in the Eastern Partnership countries), tackling the consequences of the financial and economic crisis in the Euro Zone, and all of the EU, an effective energy policy including its external dimension, relations with key partners, especially the US, China, India, and Brazil, the EU’s role in stabilisation and peacekeeping operations in conflict zones. At the same time, we do not run from discussion on issues on which our views may differ, including the size of the EU budget and its structure, especially the structural funds, the speed of reducing the Co2 emissions, the implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the development of the European External Action Service, advancing cooperation as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy, and the importance accorded to the principle of the free movement of people.
Equally significant is our collaboration within the NATO framework, despite differences in our countries’ political and defence potential (the UK ‘s nuclear capability and a permanent seat of the UN Security Council). This cooperation is informed by an affinity of views on military issues, regional, European and global security, on countering the present-day threats to security, anti-terrorism measures and the modernisation of the armed forces. There exists a long-standing tradition of Polish-British military exercises on land, at sea, and in the air. Moreover, our defence industries are cooperating, as well. This cooperation hails back to the proud tradition of the Polish-British brotherhood-in-arms during the Second World War. During the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, the United Kingdom made commitments which significantly strengthen the Alliance’s defensive capabilities on the Eastern flank, and therefore are aligned with the Polish expectations in line with the full implementation of the Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. In the context of international security, one should also point to the convergence of the Polish and British views, as part of the OSCE.