- About 850,000 Poles make up U.K.’s largest immigrant group
- Theresa May visits Warsaw after trips to Slovakia, Italy
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo made clear to U.K. leader Theresa May, after a tete-a-tete in Warsaw, that she’ll fight for the best possible deal for the 850,000 Poles living in Britain.
Szydlo said Poland won’t pressure the U.K. to start the formal process to withdraw from the European Union after Britons voted in a referendum last month to leave the 28-nation bloc.
“Our role in future talks will be to make sure that we agree on terms that will provide the best possible conditions for Poles living in U.K., as vast numbers of them want to stay where they are,” Szydlo said in a press conference in the Polish capital.
May’s visit to Poland on Thursday wraps up a week in which she met with her counterparts from Ireland, Italy and, earlier on Thursday, Slovakia. She has also had meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande as her government, in office for two weeks, is trying to work out how to retain as much access as possible to the EU market while cutting immigration from the bloc.
“I will seek to address the concerns of the British people about free movement while recognizing the importance of a close economic relationship between the U.K. and the EU,” May said. “There will be different interests and complex issues to resolve, but I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive and positive spirit, then we can pave the way for a calm and orderly departure.”
She condemned attacks against Polish communities in Britain since the referendum, and reiterated her desire to guarantee the rights of Poles and other EU nationals living in the U.K.
“The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the rights of British citizens living across the EU were not guaranteed,” she said.
Poles provide the U.K.’s largest group of foreign nationals, with 850,000 living in Britain. Their rights as Britain leaves the EU are a source of great concern in Warsaw, according to Pawel Swidlicki, policy analyst at Open Europe, a London-based think tank.
“An absolute red line for Poland is the rights of Poles already in the U.K.,” he said. “They’d also like some kind of non-discriminatory route for migrants in the future, and for Britain to continue contributing to the EU budget.”
The formal process for leaving the EU begins when Britain triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. May has repeatedly said she doesn’t intend to do that before the end of the year.