Future of British-Polish relations

In 2016 the Migration Observatory at Oxford University reported that Poles constituted the largest foreign-born population within the United Kingdom, with over 800 000 Polish-born residents living in our country, interacting on a daily basis with local culture, politics and society. In light of this, there has never been a more interesting or more important time to understand, and work in conjunction with a nation, whose people have so frequently, and so successfully chosen to embrace British values and make our country their home. History teaches us that embracing opportunities for Anglo-Polish cooperation can lead to the kind of inspiration which fuelled debates on the 19th-century Great Reform Act, and the kind of courage, which led to victory in the Second World War. However, while embracing the past, we must also look to the future.

Last November, the Prime Minister held the first bilateral summit with representatives of the Polish government, highlighting the importance of strengthening British-Polish ties in the wake of Brexit. The pursuit of close relations with Poland and the Polish community in Britain is and will remain a priority which the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poland shall continue to encourage and promote amongst parliamentarians and the British people alike. Britain currently enjoys fruitful cooperation with Poland on multiple platforms, and is working to strengthen those bonds. In the area of defence, close partnership within NATO structures will continue, with 150 Light Dragoons to be sent to the north-eastern border of Poland in April, providing an excellent example of ways in which Poland and the UK may continue too cooperate within a multilateral framework, alongside bilateral agreements.

Working with Poland in a foreign affairs framework must, however, be complemented by embracing the Polish community in Britain, and promoting interest in Polish culture. The market focus on Poland at this year’s London Book Fair will provide an opportunity for the British public to explore Polish literature, and for Polish authors to reach one of the most competitive book markets in the world. The spheres of culture and business are important to promote together, however, business cooperation between Poland and Britain is a wider-ranging phenomenon, with Polish citizens shown to be amongst the top ten most entrepreneurial minority groups in the UK in a 2014 study conducted by the Centre for Entrepreneurs. To continue to foster this success, a Congress of Polish Entrepreneurs is held annually in the UK, under the auspices of the Polish Business Link, supported by the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce. Encouraging the business activity of Poles in the UK, promoting Polish culture and maintaining close business ties with Poland is thus a highly valuable and important element of building understanding between our two nations.

In focussing on the near future of joint business enterprises and defence cooperation, the distant future must never be forgotten; it therefore remains a priority to encourage cooperation in the fields of science and technological innovation, to promote joint Polish-British initiatives which may take many years to develop and bear fruit, but nonetheless have the capacity to improve life and foster societal progress. The annual Science: Polish Perspectives conference, which takes place in Oxford and Cambridge alternately, plays a leading role in encouraging Polish researchers to share their work with one another and the scientific community in Britain. Scientific cooperation with the UK is also fostered in Poland through the offices of the UK Science and Innovation Network. It may thus be hoped that through scientific cooperation in the context of these initiatives and others, Poland and the UK may work together to create a brighter shared future.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poland hopes to encourage cooperation between the UK and Poland in all fields, to facilitate communication, and support joint initiatives. We hope to promote Polish culture and Polish endeavours in the UK, and work jointly with Poland towards common goals in bilateral and multilateral frameworks. The coming months will be particularly important for the Group, as the UK begins the process of leaving the European Union. We therefore wish to send a message of support and encouragement to Poles across the country, to say their hard work and enterprising spirit, which helped them move across the sea and make this country their home, will continue to be respected and valued here. Thus opens a new chapter in Britain’s historic friendship with the Polish nation – a friendship which has meant so much to so many over the years, and of which we are proud to act as custodians today.

Anna Richards