Strategic alliance without middlemen

“I’m not sure whether Brexit will be good for Poland or for Great Britain – only time will tell. Not everything that’s good for Great Britain is good for Poland,” said Anna Maria Anders during a debate on Brexit at the Polish Journalists Association. “Following Brexit, Great Britain will strive to achieve a strategic partnership with Poland,” assured British Conservative MP Daniel Kawczyński.

Discussions about Brexit have been conducted all round the globe since June 2016, when the British people decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. Heated debates on this issue have also erupted in Poland, not least because Poles are the second biggest immigrant group, after Indians, in the United Kingdom.

Interest in the British connection has also been heightened by the electoral victory of Law and Justice (PiS) in late 2015. One of PiS’ foreign-policy priorities has been rapprochement with Great Britain owing to the similar position of the two countries in the European forum and the ideological affinity with British Conservatives demonstrated by their membership in the same European Parliamentary faction.

“What will happen after Brexit?” That is one of the questions being raised during discussions on the EU’s future. Daniel Kawczyński, a conservative member of the House of Commons and member of the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who is of Polish descent, has a simple answer: “After leaving the EU, Great Britain will strive for strategic partnership with Poland. Without the EU we will achieve what we should have achieved long ago – a strong state based on mutual respect, bilateral relations between London and Warsaw without middlemen. Since our strategic goals are convergent, we will concentrate on the two things of the greatest significance: defence through NATO and commerce.”

In Kawczyński’s opinion, many Britons believe that such a policy would be increasingly difficult to implement through a European Union that has severed its original roots and is aiming to become a uniform state with a common foreign policy for all the states and even a common army. The concept particularly accentuating during the debate was “sovereignty”. Daniel Kawczyński emphasised that on 23rd June 2016 Britain had regained its sovereignty and ability to decide for itself.   

Poland and Great Britain have intensified their bi-lateral contacts without looking to Brexit. In 2016, joint Polish-British inter-government consultations were held, chaired by prime ministers Theresa May and Beata Szydło. Britain will need Poland’s support during its forthcoming Brexit negotiations, and Poland needs Britain because of the hundreds of thousands of its citizens now living in the British Isles. But British-Polish relations go beyond that. Both countries also share similar views on defence matters, including the need to beef up NATO’s Eastern Flank and a similar attitude towards Russia’s aggressive policies. Although situated at opposite ends of the European Union, both countries are living in a symbiosis of sorts, which is both a challenge and a great opportunity.

Great Britain is the first country to leave the EU and is thus navigating through unknown territory but it is concerned about keeping the costs of the procedure down to a minimum. In many respects, Poland sees eye to eye with Britain and may turn out to be a valuable ally. Other EU countries have fewer reasons to maintain a flexible approach to Brexit and are directing more or less veiled threats at Britain. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern not long ago said that the EU must do everything in its power to ensure that Britain outside the EU would be in a worse situation than if it had remained as a member of the community. Emmanuel Macron, a presidential candidate in France’s forthcoming election has pledged to adopt a “sharp” course towards London during Brexit negotiations.

At the same time, it still remains unknown how the negotiations will end and when Britain will ultimately leave the community. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has frequently pointed out that Britain will remain an important EU member until Brexit actually take place and should therefore be perceived as such. Great Britain and Poland need each other. They are cultivating mutual relations and putting forward new initiatives such as the Belvedere Forum – a platform where civil society representatives from both countries exchange experiences. The Polish-British partnership also has a broader, European-wide significance.

As Great Britain’s partner, Poland can play an important “educational” role with regards to Brexit by showing that normal relations between states are possible after Great Britain leaves the EU and that life goes on. It is important to calm the negative emotions that have grown up round Brexit, leading to the radicalisation of attitudes in continental Europe, Poland is showing that “getting angry” at London achieves nothing. In fact, it only provides ammunition to various anti-EU groups emphasising the arrogant face of the European Union, one of the most important reasons leading to Brexit in the first place. In this debate, Poland is the voice of reason, calling on the EU to take an honest look at itself and ask whether everything in Brussels is truly in order if the Union’s second biggest economy is abandoning it.