Prime Minister Theresa May met with the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło to discuss issues including Brexit, trade and bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Theresa May said:
I am delighted to welcome Prime Minister Szydło to Downing Street this afternoon and to offer the same warm hospitality as I received during my visit to Warsaw in July.
The relationship between Poland and the United Kingdom is important for both the prosperity and the security of our countries. And as the UK leaves the EU, I am determined to strengthen this partnership.
That is why we have held the first summit of its kind between our 2 countries today. It has been an opportunity to discuss how we can deepen our bilateral co-operation, to address shared security threats and to update the Prime Minister on the UK’s preparations for Brexit.
Let me say a few words on each.
First, our bilateral relationship.
The UK and Poland have been close allies in the EU and we plan to be even closer allies once the UK has left.
Poland is our leading trading partner in Central Europe – with bilateral trade worth £15 billion last year and UK exports to Poland doubling over the last decade.
Today, we have agreed to build on that solid basis of economic co-operation, with new initiatives to support small businesses. For example, our governments will bring together UK and Polish entrepreneurs to help them grow their companies by sharing best practice and expertise on areas such as regulation, technology and innovation.
We will also showcase our first-rate science and research collaboration with a partnership between Oxford University and Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw to establish an academic centre of excellence in the field of cyber security.
We also want to strengthen ties between the people of Poland and the United Kingdom.
Just now, we welcomed members of the Polish community here to Downing Street and paid tribute to the significant contribution they make to our nation - from business to medicine, academia to the arts.
And we will go further by establishing a forum to bring together people from both our countries to celebrate and expand our close relationship, our shared values and our history – with the inaugural meeting set to take place in Warsaw next year.
Defence and security
We have also discussed how we can work together to keep our people safe.
As 2 leading players in NATO, we are both firmly committed to its role in providing security not just for our allies in Europe but around the world – whether that is helping to stop smugglers trafficking people across the Aegean or training Afghan forces so that they can prevent their country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists once again.
Today, we’ve talked about how we can deter Russian aggression by reinforcing Europe’s eastern flank. Following on from the commitment the United Kingdom made at the Warsaw summit in July to increase the number of troops deployed in Europe, I can today set out plans to deploy 150 troops from the Light Dragoons regiment in Catterick, as well as a number of armoured vehicles, to north-east Poland in April 2017.
We have also agreed to continue to work together to secure peace and stability in Ukraine and we both remain committed to maintaining sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented.
We have also discussed how we can step up our co-operation to respond to new and emerging threats, with increased collaboration between our law enforcement agencies to disrupt serious and organised crime and to combat modern slavery.
Looking to the future, we have agreed to work towards the first UK-Poland bilateral defence treaty and to strengthen ties between our defence industries, particularly through joint work on research and development, production and procurement.
Finally, I have updated the Prime Minister and her team on the work we are doing on Brexit.
Since we last met in July, the UK has made significant progress to prepare for the negotiations and I will trigger Article 50 before the end of March next year.
I have also reiterated my plan to guarantee the rights of Poles – and other Europeans - currently living in the UK so long as the rights of British citizens living across the EU are guaranteed. And I hope we can reach an early agreement on this issue, providing certainty for Polish citizens here and British people living in Europe.
So, this has been an excellent summit.
We are 2 leaders determined to make the most of the relationship between our countries.
I firmly believe that if we all approach Brexit in the same constructive and positive manner, then we can secure the right outcome for the United Kingdom and for our European neighbours too.
And as we embark on that new chapter, I look forward to further strengthening the relationship between the United Kingdom and Poland – two resolute and strategic allies working together for the benefit of both our countries.
Prime Minister Beata Szydło said:
Madam Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, ministers. First of all, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Polish delegation, I would like to thank Madam Prime Minister, the representatives of her cabinet, the government of the United Kingdom, for today’s meeting and for the discussions we’ve heard. As Madam Prime Minister May said, this has been a very good meeting, a very good summit.
Before I touch upon the details, I would like to thank for two very symbolic gestures that Madam Prime Minister made towards Poland, our country, and towards the Polish community. So first of all, thank you very much for accompanying me to lay flowers in front of the monument commemorating Polish pilots who lost their lives in the Battle of Britain fighting for the freedom of the United Kingdom but also for the freedom of Europe, for all of us. So thank you very much, thank you for having the reception and giving me an opportunity to talk to the veterans right in front of that monument.
It was also an unprecedented event. The representatives, leaders of the Polish community were invited to 10 Downing Street for a reception. This is very important for the Polish community in the UK, but it is also important for us, for the Polish delegation, and for everyone in Poland. So thank you very much. Thank you for this token of appreciation for Poland, and for the Polish community in the UK.
I would also like to thank you for the support given by the British government to those members of the Polish community who suffered after the very sad incidents of hate crimes in the United Kingdom. You reacted immediately, and we continue working together in order to make sure that the Polish community in the UK is safe.
Our talks today focused on bilateral relations. The UK is an important strategic partner for Poland. There are many topics that pertain to the economy, to defence, and our mutual relationship in research, development, culture and the everyday life of our citizens in the United Kingdom. Those were very good talks, very down to earth. We spoke about plans for the future, we made commitments to each other. We are aware of the fact that the British government does not have such summits with many other partners, and we appreciate it very much that you have agreed to have this format. We spoke about economic relations, scientific cooperation, we spoke about the implementation of the decisions taken during the NATO summit in Warsaw.
So these are very specific decisions, very specific commitments and pledges that we will now translate into action. We have agreed to continue meeting within the next months, and we have also agreed for the intergovernmental consultations to be held on a regular basis. We shall meet again next year, and we hope for this to be an annual event that would give us an opportunity to discuss the most important matters pertaining to our bilateral relations.
Another topic discussed today was the matter of Brexit. This was not the most important topic, as we met here in London today focusing on the bilateral relations between Poland and the United Kingdom. However, Madam Prime Minister has told me about the steps currently taken by the UK as regards Brexit. I touched upon the matter that is the most important from our point of view: we want to make sure that as part of the negotiations, the guarantees are maintained for the Polish citizens who live and work in the United Kingdom. However, the negotiations on Brexit will take place between the EU and the UK. Poland will certainly take an active part in these negotiations and I would like to underline again that for Poland, the UK is a strategic partner and regardless of whether it is or it is not a member of the European Union, our bilateral relations, the relations that we give a new opening to during today’s summit will flourish and we hope to broaden and deepen these relations in the future.
So Madam Prime Minister, thank you very much for your hospitality. Thank you for hosting us here and I believe that this is a very positive sign for the months and years to come. Poland and the United Kingdom together will take up for important initiatives.
Prime Minister Szydło in your article in The Daily Telegraph you used a very resonant phrase, that you didn’t want Poles and other European Union citizens living in the UK to feel like hostages, bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiation. Are you disappointed that Prime Minister May is unable to make a unilateral commitment that they can stay here? And Prime Minister May, obviously we’re all a little bit concerned about your sleepless Brexit nights, but more germanely, what is on the table in the Brexit negotiation? Is access to a formidable security knowledge and expertise part of what you would be bargaining with as we set the terms with Brexit?
I think there’s a bit of an over-interpretation about sleepless Brexit nights, I have to say. But of course it is a challenge. It’s a very complex negotiation that we will be going through. As we look to complete that negotiation we look at issues around trade, but of course, there will be issues around the justice and home affairs area where we’re party to arrangements within the European Union as a member of the EU at the moment, where we’ll have to consider what the future relationship will be. For example Europol is one of those, we are a major contributor to Europol. So yes, there will be aspects where we’re members of things because we’re in the European Union, which we’ll need to consider in the negotiations that go ahead. But as I’ve said before, I want to ensure we have the best possible deal for trade with and operating within the Single European market. And I’m ambitious for what we can achieve from the negotiations, and crucially I think what’s important is it’s not just what’s good for the UK, it’s actually we want a deal that’s good for Europe as well as the UK.
Prime Minister Szydło
So, our relationship with Madam Theresa May is excellent and I agree with her completely when she says that the question about Brexit maybe an over-interpretation, and today the representatives of the Polish government and the representatives of the British government met in order to talk about our bilateral relations. We spoke about the economy. We spoke about our membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. So those are the things that bring us together. And as for Brexit, well Brexit will be an interesting experience certainly for all the member states of the European Union, but that’s in the future. We are still awaiting for the notification. The decision needs to be made to trigger the procedure then the negotiations will begin, and we shall talk about all the things from the point of view of Poland. And let me reiterate that the most important thing is the guarantees for the Polish citizens who are living and working in the United Kingdom.
Of course, these guarantees would need to be reciprocal. It is also important what guarantees the British citizens living and working in other member states of the European Union will have. So this is the matter we need to negotiate, agree upon in order to work out solutions that would be good for both the citizens of the United Kingdom and the citizens of the EU including Poland. These negotiations will be held between the EU and the United Kingdom.
A question to Madam Prime Minister Szydło. Madam Prime Minister, you have mentioned that these are the first consultations not the last ones, and they will take place in the future again. So what will be the benefits for Poland, for the Polish community in the UK? So if you could tell us a little bit more about the outcome of these consultations.
Prime Minister Szydło
I understand that you are referring to our intergovernmental consultations, not the Brexit negotiations, right? Because these are two different things. Well we have adopted this formula for the intergovernmental summit. This is the first one and we have agreed for these consultations to be continued. Next year, we will hold such consultations in Warsaw, ministers will meet and talk about their respective scopes of responsibilities. And as I have mentioned today, we spoke about the economy. We spoke about support for small and medium enterprises. Here in the United Kingdom there is a great number of Poles who run their own businesses. We want to encourage them to transfer some of their business operations to Poland. We want to benefit from best practices from the United Kingdom when it comes to the support for SMEs. And let me remind you that Poland has currently implemented its national plan for responsible development. And one of the important elements of this plan prepared by Deputy Prime Minister Morawiecki is the Constitution for Business, and it includes solutions that help entrepreneurs and I know that in creating this constitution we used many British solutions.
We also considered the cooperation between British and Polish universities to be very important. It would be important for us to have a Polish Chair at Cambridge. We also want the cooperation and student exchange to be organised on a regular basis. We also spoke about the support for the Polish community. We spoke about the possibility of teaching Polish as a language in British schools. We spoke about many different things that are important also for those Polish citizens who live in the UK. And it is very important for Poland that the strategic partnership between our countries has not just the economic dimension, not just the cultural dimension, not just the dimension of the support for the Polish community, but it also has an important security dimension so our membership in NATO, the decisions taken during the NATO summit, strengthening of the Eastern flank of NATO and the implementation of decisions taken during the summit. So once again, the UK is an important strategic partner, and we can only hope to broaden and deepen our cooperation.
President-elect Trump has repeatedly said that he admires Vladimir Putin’s leadership and sees the prospect for an alliance with him over Syria. So, both Prime Ministers, how concerned are you by the prospect of such an alliance and how important is it for the West to be united in standing up to Russia?
Well I think first of all we must recognise increasing Russian assertiveness, and I think it’s important that we work together to deal with that. We’ve spoken today about the importance in relation to Ukraine and Russian action in Ukraine for the Minsk agreement to be fully implemented, for sanctions to be continued until that agreement is fully implemented. In relation to Syria, we want Russia to ensure that they work with the regime to ensure the terrible bombing, the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians, stops. I raised this as an issue at the European Union Council in October and the European Union agreed that we would continue to look at this issue. I think it’s important that internationally we put pressure on Russia to recognise that its behaviour in Syria in terms of the indiscriminate bombing, the support for indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians, is unacceptable.
Prime Minister Szydło
I agree fully. When it comes to Russia, Poland maintains its position and we do not agree for sanctions against Russia to be lifted. The condition for the sanctions to be lifted is a full implementation of Minsk agreements. We watch the behaviour of Russia and we believe that we should be decisive and we should be united in the European Union when it comes to our relations towards Russia. We would like our relationship to be good. Russia is our neighbour, but it is unacceptable for us that today Russia is an aggressive country, it is a country that is an aggressor towards Ukraine. It has attacked its territories. So we underline that further support for Ukraine is needed in order for Ukraine to remain within the sphere of European influence rather than Russian influence. So we certainly support the maintenance of sanctions.
A question to Prime Minister Szydło and to Prime Minister May. You spoke about the reciprocity of the rights of citizens, how do you understand this reciprocity Madame Szydlo, have you made any declarations towards Prime Minister May as to the rights of British citizens in Poland after Brexit. So, can this be perceived as starting negotiations over the head of the EU?
Prime Minister Szydło
Let me underline it once more. We can both confirm it and we have agreed, today we focused on our bilateral relations. It was established between the Polish government and the British government. The negotiations on Brexit will be initiated once the United Kingdom makes the first step and that is the notification confirming that it has the will to leave the European Union. So negotiations will be held between the EU and the UK. They will be initiated only then. Today we speak about Brexit as a certain factor and outcome of the decision made by British citizens in a referendum. We are all wondering how this process will go. We are all trying to decide about our priorities and objectives. But, the negotiations will be held between the European Union and the United Kingdom. Poland as a member state of the European Union considers it very important what objects, what priorities will be decided. We want the new relations to be built on mutual trust and ask for reciprocity in terms of rights and privileges. Well they have to be negotiated and there needs to be the right balance and this will be the condition that will be brought up by Poland.
Just to echo what Prime Minister Szydlo has said, the focus of today’s meeting was on the bilateral relationship and the way in which we can build that increasing strategic relationship between the United Kingdom and Poland. And that’s a relationship we want to have as a strong relationship, not just now and while those negotiations are taking place, but after the United Kingdom has left the European Union. We have a shared history, as the Prime Minister said, we were able this morning to recognise those many Polish men and women who sacrificed their lives to help keep us safe and secure here in the United Kingdom, as well as Europe safe and secure. And we recognise that and there is much that we share in our values that we can take forward together with that greater strategic relationship.