WARSAW — British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday pledged to work closely in the future despite the U.K. leaving the European Union.
The two sides signed a new bilateral security and defense treaty, which May described as a “powerful symbol of our continued close cooperation” and which would “serve as a catalyst” to strengthen the U.K.’s relationship with Poland.
After their meeting Morawiecki told a press conference he wanted a new trading relationship between the U.K. and EU “as soon as possible.”
“Although this is a prerogative of the European Commission we are of an opinion that trade and economic cooperation should be maintained at the best possible platform for us and for the United Kingdom. All the protectionist movements are very dangerous and that is why we really regret that we are losing the U.K. as our ally in a number of discussions at the EU level.”
He added that the U.K. was an important trade partner for Poland, particularly when it came to services.
“We have agreed today to bolster our cooperation to counter Russian disinformation in the region” — Theresa May, U.K. prime minister
“We believe that the freedom of providing services, particularly transport, logistics, construction services but also IT and the services where the U.K. is very strong such as financial services, insurance and consulting, training and education, this co-operation on freedom of movement of people should be strengthened in the coming years,” he said.
The two leaders also said they were concerned about Russian influence and use of false information.
“We have agreed today to bolster our cooperation to counter Russian disinformation in the region …. We are both deeply concerned by Russia’s attempts to weaponize information,” May told reporters. “The Kremlin is seeking to undermine the international rules-based system and it will not succeed.”
At the press conference, Morawiecki’s introductory comments about the future U.K.-Polish relationship were translated in real time into English by a translator who dubbed May “Madam Brexit.”
“It’s very important for us that this cooperation, even though it will be based soon on different rules and different regulations than it has been so far because of Brexit, because as Madam Brexit said, Brexit is Brexit,” the translator said.
The timing of the visit by May — who was accompanied by Chancellor Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Business Secretary Greg Clark — was problematic, coming the day after the European Commission triggered the so-called Article 7 process against Poland, which could see Warsaw stripped of its voting rights in Brussels.
Asked about the triggering of Article 7, May said: “These constitutional issues … should be primarily a matter for the individual country concerned. Across Europe we have collective belief in the rule of law. I welcome the fact that PM Morawiecki has indicated he will be speaking with the European Commission and I hope that will lead to a satisfactory resolution.”
Boris Johnson said Morawiecki’s offer on trade was “tremendous.” The foreign secretary also described the Poles as “excellent people,” adding: “They have been rock solid alongside us fighting against bureaucracy in Brussels.”
The prime ministers also discussed citizens’ rights, with May saying the approximately 1 million Poles in the U.K. will be able to apply for “settled status” after Brexit.
However, the prime ministers disagreed on one subject, whether the Poles in Britain should stay there.
“There was one thing that is perceived differently by madame prime minister and myself and this pertains to our citizens living in the U.K.,” Morawiecki said. “Madame prime minister … said that she would like the 1 million Polish citizens to remain in the U.K. Well on the contrary, I would rather have these 1 million Polish citizens return to Poland.”