Poland preparing for ‘no deal’ Brexit: deputy minister

Poland's deputy minister of foreign affairs Konrad Szymański in Brussels. Photo: PAP/EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Following a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels on Friday, Poland’s deputy foreign minister Konrad Szymański said that the probability of the EU and Great Britain not reaching an agreement regarding Brexit “has never been higher than it is today”.

‘Poland does not want to punish the British’: deputy minister

In an interview published on Friday, Poland’s deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymański said the EU should do all it can to prevent Brexit talks...

see more

He warned that the consequences of such a scenario would not only be very bad for Great Britain but would also be very clearly felt throughout the EU. Nevertheless, the ministers did not discuss the eventuality of extending negotiations with London, an idea which was proposed by several EU leaders, including Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

If all goes well, the aim is to reach an agreement with Great Britain by October, in order for the member states and European Parliament to accept the conditions before the end of March, 2019.

Last week, the British government published a white paper, in which it laid out its vision of future relations with the EU. The document came under fire from many sides and caused the British chief Brexit negotiator David Davis and foreign minister Boris Johnson to resign in protest. They accused their Prime Minister Theresa May of making excessive concessions to the EU and failing to implement the social mandate of the Brexit referendum in June, 2016. The Polish Press Agency also reported several EU diplomats saying that by publishing the white paper Ms May was essentially “cherry-picking”.

“The EU should appreciate the efforts of Prime Minister May in creating a cohesive, comprehensive vision of future relations with the EU, while at the same time agreeing that the propositions diverge from the position of the EU-27 in many places,” deputy minister Szymański said. He added that the EU should “behave exceptionally carefully and responsibly” as negotiations go on.

Interview: Hard Brexit could endanger Poland’s economy

see more

“No deal”

The deputy minister said that Poland is ready to do “anything possible” in order to avoid a collapse in the negotiations. He also stressed that apart from the political aspect, one of the biggest problems facing the Brexit negotiations is the legal issue of the border of Northern Ireland. “It seems to be the most sensitive point of the negotiations and at the same time the fastest route to the ‘no deal’ Brexit we are trying to avoid,” he said.

Experts have highlighted that the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would violate the terms of 1998’s Good Friday Agreement between Ireland and Great Britain, and could lead to a renewed escalation of conflict in Ulster.

Mr Szymański said that over the last several weeks Poland has been making preparations to assess a “no deal” Brexit both from a financial point of view, as well as with regard to business, administration and citizens’ rights.

The deputy minister admitted that there may be “chaos” if a Brexit agreement with no section dedicated to citizens’ rights is negotiated.

“We are preparing ourselves and our administration to deal with the wide range of issues [regarding citizens - ed.] which are bilaterally possible, but it will certainly be a much more chaotic situation than if such a section were included,” he said.

Poles in Britain

A substantial number of Poles chose to move to and settle in Great Britain following Poland's accession to the EU in 2004. Consequently, Poles currently make up the second largest foreign-born community in the UK. The number of Polish-born residents living in Great Britain was estimated at 911,000 in 2016.

Brexit and the associated fears concerning the rights of Polish expats have meant that negotiations between the UK and the EU remained high on the agenda of Poland’s government.

In June, British Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said that the rights of Poles and other EU citizens in Great Britain will remain nearly the same as they were before the Brexit.

Great Britain began the process of leaving the EU on March 29, 2017 and is due to formally leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.