Poland seeks continued strong relations with UK after Brexit
BGIPU welcomed a delegation from the Parliament of Poland, the Sejm, from 27th February until 2nd March, led by the Chair of the IPU Group in Poland, Beata Mazurek MP. She was joined in the cross-party delegation by Grzegorz Długi MP, Piotr Pyzik MP, Konrad Głębocki MP and Małgorzata Golińska MP. The delegation was also accompanied by Beata Żylińska, with very welcome support from the Embassy of the Poland over the course of the visit.
Upon arrival to Westminster, the delegation was formally welcomed to the UK Parliament by Deputy Speaker, Eleanor Laing MP. Following this, the delegation met with Matthew Hamlyn, Clerk of the Overseas Office in the House of Commons who provided an overview of the Westminster parliamentary system and all of its nuances to set the scene for the coming meetings. The delegation then had a meeting with Members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Daniel Kawczynski MP and Ian Murray MP, where there was a focus on the role of the Committee as well as some introductory remarks on the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
Following these meetings, Nigel Evans MP, Chair of BGIPU, hosted a welcome reception in Parliament for the delegation, attended by MPs, Peers and representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, followed by an informal dinner hosted by Mr Evans, attended by Daniel Kawczynski MP, Paula Sherriff MP, Steve Pound MP and George Bycznski, Coordinator of the Poland All-Party Parliamentary Group. As acknowledged readily throughout the visit, both UK and Polish counterparts warmly acknowledged the close and historic relations between the UK and Poland as a cornerstone of relations, particularly the strength of people to people contacts in the past and into the future.
The following day started with a tour of the Houses of Parliament by Fabian Hamilton MP. The delegation then attended a meeting with Members from both the House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee and the House of Lords International Relations Select Committee, with Lord Howell of Guildford chairing the meeting. The priority issues of this meeting were responses to the ongoing challenge of refugees facing Europe, the importance of the Polish diaspora living in the UK and the need to protect their rights post-Brexit, and a discussion on the future of the EU more generally. Questions regarding the independence of the judiciary in Poland were also raised with the delegation noting the concerns but saying that they thought the media in both Poland and internationally was taking an unfair and biased view of the Polish government’s reform efforts.
Issues of common interest were also highlighted in a working lunch hosted by the Rt Hon. Ann Clwyd MP, who was joined by Lord Rennard, Rt Hon. Fiona Mactaggart MP and the Rt Hon. Lord Dholakia. The UK Members conveyed their own specific perspectives on the UK’s departure from the EU, while discussing the process of the referendum in a broader political context. This moved onto a discussion on the voting systems of both the UK, which uses the first-past-the-post system, and Poland, which uses the proportional representative system.
Following the lunch meeting the delegation met with the House of Lords EU Select Committee, chaired by Lord Boswell of Aynho. This meeting, although once more discussing the Polish diaspora in the UK and the Brexit vote, also considered Poland’s perspective on the EU. Whilst the delegation noted some frustrations regarding the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, all of the delegates expressed the opinion that they did not consider it desirable or likely that Poland would leave the EU. The Polish delegation did emphasise, however, that they fully respected the democratic decision taken by the UK people in the referendum and would work closely with the UK to ensure mutual interest were addressed as this decision was implemented. Brexit was also the key topic for the meeting with Rt Hon. Hilary Benn MP, Chair of the Committee on Exiting the EU, accompanied by other Members of the Committee. This meeting did, however, touch on UK divisions on the referendum result, with Members of the Scottish Nationalist Party stating their desire for Scotland to remain within the EU and that, because of Brexit, there might be imminent moves for a second independence referendum.
The following day saw the delegation participate in a roundtable discussion with Members from both Houses, covering again a wide range of mutual issues. This meeting, chaired by Daniel Kawczynski MP, covered the bilateral relationship between the UK and Poland, future developments in bilateral trade and investment and some common and differing perspectives on the EU. Discussions also highlighted the importance of the NATO alliance, including welcoming recent reassurances by the Trump Administration in the US. Both sides noted the priority they place on the NATO alliance and the continuing commitment of the UK to European security issues which was of huge importance to Poland from a national security perspective. The delegation observed Prime Minister’s Question Time and then attended a working lunch chaired by Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP focussed on key regional challenges facing Europe, including the role by played on such issues by the Visegrad Group of countries.
In the afternoon there was a meeting with the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, with the Chair, Rt Hon. Yvette Cooper MP, and several other Members of the Committee. Throughout this meeting, respect for the rights of Polish nationals living in the UK were highlighted noting the Committee had recently carried out an evidence session on hate crime in the UK against Eastern Europeans, with a particular focus on the impacts on the Polish community. The UK MPs in this meeting reiterated that they hoped that the UK’s deal to leave the EU would not affect the rights of Poles to live in the UK. This meeting also allowed UK MPs to question the Polish delegation in more detail on legal reforms being pursued by the Law and Justice Party Government in Poland, especially with regards to the concerns about appropriate protections being maintained regarding the independence of the judiciary.
The final two meetings in Parliament saw a focus on trade between the UK and Poland, with the Minister for Trade and Investment, the Rt Hon. Greg Hands MP, discussing the potential for future bilateral trade agreements once the UK has formally left the EU and the strong linkages which already exist between businesses in both countries. The delegation noted their desire that they did not want to ‘punish’ the UK for leaving the EU through trade, but that the UK would have to be realistic in its expectations given the anticipated difficulties which might arise in negotiations with EU members on such matters. This meeting was contrasted somewhat being followed by an exchange with Chair of the International Trade Committee, Angus MacNeil MP, who was far more sceptical about how easy it might be to conclude an agreement with EU members of new trading arrangements following the UK’s departure from the EU.
After accompanying UK members to an Ash Wednesday service in the Parliamentary Chapel in the evening, the delegation undertook a cultural program on 2 March visiting Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle to gain further insights into key UK institutions and traditions. Underscoring such close relations, UK Parliamentarians had sought at every opportunity to express a common desire for EU nationals living in the UK, including the Polish diaspora, to be able to remain and contribute to the UK following Brexit. UK parliamentarians also emphasised that even after the UK leaves the EU, the positive relationship that exists between the UK and Poland, must be able to flourish. In return, the visiting delegation admitted that while Poland would be losing a key ally in the EU, the UK’s departure would not prevent both sides seeking to find new opportunities to expand and strengthen already strong bilateral relations for the future.