You worked at the British Embassy in Warsaw between 1996 and 2000. Returning after nearly 20 years, you must have been impressed by the scale of changes you see around you. What are your personal impressions of modern Poland – the people, the economy, the landscape, urban and rural?
It’s fantastic to be back. A lot hasn’t changed – the warmth of the welcome, sense of humour, beauty of the Polish countryside, Warsaw as a modern European city. But lots has. I can see economic growth all around me, particularly in the infrastructure and buildings. But honestly, I’m fascinated to the answer to this question myself, and want to find out more.
What would you say to companies trading between the UK and Poland with regards to Brexit – hope for the best, but plan for the worst?
As you know, bilateral trade flows between Poland and the UK were on a clear upward trajectory pre-Covid, having exceeded £20 billion in 2019. Trade forms a key part of the warm relationship between our countries and we want these to continue. I look forward to working with the Embassy team to support businesses on this.
In the ongoing negotiations with the EU, we are looking to agree a future trading relationship on the lines of the free trade agreement the EU has with Canada. This would benefit UK and Polish businesses trading in goods, services and investment. If we can’t do so, we will have a trading relationship like the EU’s relationship with Australia, with New Zealand or the US.
Can I remind all importers and exporters that, whatever happens in the negotiations, the UK will be leaving the EU’s customs area and single market when the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. This means that there will be changes which businesses need to be ready for, and many have already begun preparing for that. This includes getting an EORI number and preparing for customs declarations. For more information about what EU businesses should do, the UK Government has a dedicated webpage, www.gov.uk/eubusiness.
The past few years have seen an increase in bilateral investment intentions, on the part of British as well as Polish companies. What trends are you observing here – in both directions?
The UK is one of the largest foreign investors in Poland with £6.2 billion invested by the end of 2018. A recent investment was Johnson Matthey’s cutting edge battery materials plant in Konin, which helps put Poland at the forefront of the e-mobility revolution. I am confident this trend will continue. UK companies will continue to invest in Poland, because of its skilled workforce, central location, and rapid economic growth.
And we are seeing increasing investment of Polish companies into the UK. As more Polish businesses seek to go global, we want them to use the UK as a route international markets. The UK is a great springboard, because of its openness, access to capital, ease of doing business and language. Poland’s UK-based diaspora helps, and I’m keen to take even more advantage of these links.
Over the last few years, we have observed a sharp increase in the number of investments from Poland, especially by the innovative, technology businesses. We have also supported a number of large investments from the more traditional automotive, construction and energy sectors. There are initial signs that the trends remain relatively positive even in the current challenging times of the Covid pandemic.
With tensions rising across the border in Belarus, the British Army's participation in NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Poland is a strong symbol of the UK's commitment to peace and stability in the CEE region. Do you think there's enough recognition of current military cooperation between the UK and Poland in both countries?
The first contingent of UK eFP reconnaissance soldiers arrived in Orzysz in 2017; there have been seven rotations since then. Since the first deployment, there have been over 1,200 British troops deployed as part of the eFP Battle Group in Poland. They have all enjoyed the challenges and rewards afforded by working alongside Polish and NATO allies, as well as the opportunity to appreciate Polish culture at first hand. Similarly, when Polish and British soldiers are deployed alongside each other elsewhere in the world, there is inevitably great camaraderie.
The contribution that the UK makes to Poland is well known in UK government, we know that Poland’s defence is also UK’s defence. Our senior visitors are always keen to meet our soldiers in Poland, not only to understand the circumstances in which they operate, but also to thank them on behalf the UK people. I’m looking forward to making my own trip to Orzysz soon.
It is also very apparent that Polish officials, from the President down, are immensely appreciative of our presence. That is not only with respect to our troops in Poland, but also the 1,000+ UK troops serving in eFP Estonia.
Covid-19 has placed a great strain on societies around the world; normal cultural and social activities that underpin the diplomacy of 'soft power' have been drastically curtailed. How is the Embassy coping with the restrictions that the pandemic has imposed on its usual working style?
The Embassy moved close to full remote working in mid-March. At the same time, we moved into crisis response to help UK nationals and UK residents return home after Polish borders quickly closed. This was a big challenge. The team rose to it admirably and were able to support the return of over 2,800 UK nationals and residents, operating the whole time from our home offices.
The Embassy has found new ways to engage our contacts and organise events using online platforms. For example – we organised webinars with local partners on issues like Covid and cyber and engaging business on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Since June more and more of our staff have been coming back to the Embassy and we have prioritised ensuring the safety of staff and visitors – with strict rules on the numbers allowed in meeting rooms and strict distancing rules in open-plan areas, one-way systems around the building and lots of hand sanitiser.
I’m glad to arrive at a time when in-person meetings are again possible – as long as we take sensible precautions. I’m really looking forward to getting out and meeting people. My first posting in Poland was in the late ‘90s, when I worked on the Know How Fund. That involved travelling across the country to visit ongoing projects. I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to travel around Poland again and see how the whole country changed in the last 20 years.
The UK has shown an impressive move away from dependence on fossil fuels for its energy. What best-practice could the UK be sharing with Poland? To what extent is energy policy a government-to-government issue – and what part should private investors play in terms of helping Poland on its path to renewable energy?
The UK will be hosting the key COP26 Summit in 2021, jointly with Italy. So working with Poland, as with all our global partners, will be a key priority.
I am very proud the UK took was the first country in the developed world to have put a ‘net zero’ ambition into law, with a clear intention of wiping out our contribution to climate change by 2050. The move stemmed from years of close cooperation between the government, business, and science – cooperation that built mutual trust. We call on countries to make similar bold commitments.
In terms of specifics, the UK’s experience of decarbonisation is something worth sharing with our Polish friends. It is a centrepiece of the Clean Growth Partnership our prime ministers agreed in June.
We have good experience of offshore wind, where the UK is the country with the largest installed base for offshore wind. This sector requires action by governments and the private sector. In the UK most of our energy sector is privately owned, whereas in Poland the utilities tend to be state-run. Policies set by government have incentivised market action, and will continue to do so. And I’m keen to see more cooperation between UK and Polish business. For example, PKN Orlen has recently signed UK’s Offshore Design Engineering to help with the development of their first wind-farm project in the Baltic. I believe this is just the beginning of close British-Polish cooperation in this space.