by Julia Benbenek
What implications would a no-deal Brexit have for Poland and Poles in the UK?

The date for the United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union was set for March 29, 2019. However, in light of the recent political turmoil in Britain, Brexit was delayed. The UK has failed to reach an exit deal with the EU; the House of Commons thrice rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal plan. Ironically, Parliament has also rejected a no-deal Brexit, and a second referendum. Therefore, with no withdrawal agreement in place, EU leaders agreed to Prime Minister May’s request to delay Brexit.

With over 900,000 Polish nationals residing in Great Britain, the largest group of foreign nationals in the UK, and the UK being Poland’s third largest sales market, a no-deal Brexit could have serious ramifications for Poland-UK relations. His Excellency Jacek Czaputowicz, Poland’s foreign minister, remarked, “From our point of view a no-deal Brexit is the worst solution.” This statement echoes the worries of many Polish nationals residing in Great Britain and Polish business owners who rely on the UK as a top economic partner.

Currently, Poland has a growing trade balance and surplus in trade of 7.4 billion euros with Great Britain. Polish economic sectors such as:  food, cosmetics, furniture, and transport industries heavily rely on the limitation of tariffs. If a no-deal Brexit were to occur, it would likely result in the imposition of tariffs on trade. According to Janusz Bugajski of the Center for European Policy Analysis, customs duties on Polish exports to the UK could rise by 8.5 %.

Moreover, Polish nationals worry over the future of their residency and citizenship status in the UK. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain voiced concerns to Prime Minister May out of fear that EU citizens would become illegal immigrants after Brexit.  Prime Minister May made it clear that EU citizens living in the UK are encouraged to stay even if there is a no-deal Brexit, however, some question the reliability of this promise without a clear withdrawal agreement.

In response to the public backlash against Brexit and the lack of clarity over its potential effects, many have called for a second referendum. Despite Parliament having already rejected this proposal, Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, called upon other members to support a second referendum. Although, the results of deciding on this polarizing matter are difficult to predict, current polls indicate that the majority would likely support remaining in the EU. A survey by polling firm YouGov showed that if a referendum were held, 46% would vote to remain, 39% would vote to leave, and the rest did not know, would not vote, or refused to answer. Additionally, BMG Research estimates that currently 54% prefer to remain while 46% support leaving.

However, opponents of a second referendum argue that it would undermine the democratic process. Ryszard Legutko, head of the Polish Law and Justice Delegation to the European Parliament, stated, “The British people have decided the UK should leave, it should be concluded. Otherwise it would be a humiliation.” Although, this statement reflects the majority of politicians’ worries regarding the danger a second referendum poses to democratic principles, it does not seem to echo the growing public support for remaining in the EU.

Despite no withdrawal agreement, the continuation of strong Poland-UK relations remains a top priority. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Prime Minister May have conducted three sets of intergovernmental meetings with hopes of securing lasting political and economic ties. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, remarked, “although Brexit fatigue is increasingly visible and justified, we cannot give up seeking — until the very last moment– a positive solution.”

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JuliaBenbenek_20Julia Benbenek is an intern at the Polish American Congress and an undergraduate student at Georgetown University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service.

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