Theresa May will launch a charm offensive in a bid to win Polish support in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, as pressure grew to guarantee the status of migrant workers.
Mrs May will host Polish prime minister Beata Szydło and other senior Polish politicians at a meeting in Downing Street on Monday that will focus on Brexit and defence co-operation, and seek to ease diplomatic tensions caused during the referendum.
British-Polish relations were tested by eurosceptic campaigners’ focus on immigration, and in the aftermath of the vote a series of racially-motivated attacks on Poles living in Britain provoked condemnation from the Polish government.
In advance of the meeting, Mrs May said that Britain’s ties with Poland were “deeply rooted in our shared history”, citing the example of Polish pilots who defended Britain during the Blitz. She wanted Brexit to “serve as a catalyst to strengthen” the two countries’ relationship, she said.
The prime minister will praise the “valuable contribution” of Polish workers living in the UK, and set out plans to deploy about 150 British infantry troops to Poland next year as part of the expansion of Nato activity in the region.
The event reflects the importance that Downing Street places on Poland’s role in the forthcoming EU negotiations, a Tory aide said.
Polish ministers are keen to ensure that the more than 800,000 Poles living in the UK retain all their legal status and privileges in the country, and will also raise the issue of security of EU nationals with their UK counterparts.
Poland’s EU minister said on Sunday that the country wanted to prioritise the status of its citizens living in Britain.
“No matter what happens with Brexit, we have to maintain an ongoing and close contact with the British government administration because we want to guarantee the highest possible level of protection of the rights of Poles who have decided to live, work, and study in Britain,” Konrad Szymanski told PAP, Poland’s state-run news agency.
Poland is caught between being both one of the EU’s staunchest supporters of free movement of people and one of Britain’s closest allies in the bloc.
Warsaw is at pains to keep London onside during any negotiations because of the UK’s position as the pre-eminent defence power in Europe, and a key player in the retrenchment of Nato forces in central and eastern Europe to deter Russia.
Poland’s rightwing government, which has ratcheted up its nationalist and eurosceptic rhetoric since Britain’s vote for Brexit, fears that a UK-less EU will pivot towards a more federalist and integrated model led by France and Germany.
As such, it wants to ensure that Britain is given as many concessions as possible during exit negotiations that would mean as soft a Brexit as possible, but has ruled out curbs on freedom of movement of people, leaving it pulled between the two positions.
Polish ministers have touted the visit as a sign of historically close ties between Warsaw and London as the central European country seeks to position itself to benefit from the relationship, whatever the outcome of the Brexit process.
Mr Szymanski said he hoped that Poland could play a key role in shaping the EU position towards Britain in any future Brexit negotiations, but that there would be no bilateral deal between the two countries.
Witold Waczykowski, Poland’s defence minister who will attend the summit, stressed before the visit that the UK “needs to be treated as a full member of the EU” over the next few years.
The meeting comes as MPs stepped up pressure on the EU to reach a deal on migrant workers’ right to remain in their host countries after Britain leaves the bloc.
More than 80 British parliamentarians, including former cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith, signed a letter organised by the European Research Group, a Tory-led group of Eurosceptics, calling for an immediate guarantee that UK citizens living in other EU countries will be allowed to remain.
The letter hit out at the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, calling him “worryingly indifferent” to the “anxiety and uncertainty” of citizens living abroad.
Mr Barnier said last week after a meeting with Brexit secretary David Davis that there could be “no negotiation before notification” by triggering Article 50.
Steve Baker MP, ERG chairman, said that Mr Barnier’s “intransigence” was “inhumane”. “He should immediately agree in principle the continuation of reciprocal rights for resident UK and EU citizens,” he said.
Also on Monday, Remain campaigners from Britain’s three largest political parties were to reunite for the first time since they lost the referendum, to warn that the single market plays an essential role in all major sectors of the economy.
The Open Britain campaign will warn of the economic damage that leaving the single market could cause. A sector-by-sector free trade agreement could cause economic damage to Britain’s most dynamic industries, research for the campaign found.