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Bilateral Relations: Poland

Volume 624: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2017

3. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of relations between Poland and the UK. (909510)

British-Polish relations are strong and getting stronger. The inaugural intergovernmental consultations last November were a firm demonstration of our commitment. I was delighted to launch the first Belvedere civil society forum earlier this month in Warsaw with the Polish Foreign Minister and many others.

Given this Government’s proud record of tackling modern slavery, does my right hon. Friend welcome the UK, Poland and Lithuania modern slavery conference, held in Warsaw in March, as a signal of how we can work together to strengthen the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery?

The Prime Minister has rightly called this

“the great human rights issue of our time”.

The Home Office-funded conference to which my hon. Friend referred, and the workshop that went with it, was the culmination of an intense period of Government activity. As a result of the workshop, we have strengthened regional co-operation to tackle modern slavery in central and eastern Europe.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Belvedere forum is a sign of our high-level engagement with Poland and a signal that it is entirely possible to have constructive and cordial discussions with our European friends, even as Brexit is being discussed?

It was exactly that. I am pleased to say that more than 120 people attended, including leading representatives of UK-Polish businesses, along with representatives from universities and think tanks, Parliaments, media outlets, cultural institutions and, indeed, the Polish diaspora from the UK.

In the wake of Brexit, I have been left deeply concerned by the rise in hate crime and the subsequent insecurity felt by our Polish communities. I was very saddened to read a report in a local newspaper of a Polish-born mother in the north-east saying that when she speaks Polish to her daughter,

“I can’t guarantee I would feel safe.”

Will the Minister clarify what steps he is taking with his Polish counterparts to reassure Polish communities that hate crime is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK?

Following an absolutely deplorable spike just after the referendum, I am pleased to say that the number of reported crimes has significantly declined. We have been working very closely with our Polish counterparts, reassuring them at every conceivable opportunity. Indeed, we did so very publicly at the Belvedere forum.

The Polish community constitutes the largest component of EU nationals in the UK and by far the largest percentage in Scotland. The Minister of State and, indeed, the Foreign Secretary have in previous incarnations been known for their cosmopolitan, pro-immigration attitudes. Can the Minister think of anything on the eve of Brexit that would better enhance the relationship going into negotiations than to unilaterally and immediately consolidate the position of the 3 million EU nationals in this country? Is not that something the Government should do now?

I am confident that when the starting gun for Brexit is fired tomorrow, the issue mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman will be an essential part of the negotiations that will then follow.

Does the Minister believe that Poland deserves congratulations, as a frontline state against an increasingly fractious Russia, on being one of only five NATO members to meet the minimum level of 2% expenditure of GDP? Does he think it would send a good signal to Russia if the Foreign Secretary were to throw his considerable weight behind perhaps a Polish candidate to be the next Secretary-General of NATO, rather than a member of the comfortable club of the usual suspects?

If I might say so, the manner in which my right hon. Friend expressed his views was characteristic of him. I am confident that, even though we are going to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom will remain a force for good in the defence and security of eastern Europe, and we will increase our engagement on all levels.

Has the Minister received the same representation as we have from the Polish and other European embassies on the difficulties that many EU nationals are having with the 85-page form that they have to complete in order to apply for permanent residency in the UK? Has he relayed those concerns to the Home Office? [Interruption.] The Secretary of State does not even know about it. In that case, will the Minister, the Secretary of State and perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Secretary of State, accept my challenge and try to fill in the form and see how they get on?

I have to say that I have not received such representations, but I look forward to raising the matter myself when I next see the Polish ambassador, as I do on regular occasions.