“Poland is the UK’s most important ally facing Russia” – Our interview with Greg Hands MP

Greg Hands MP tells British Poles about investments in Britain after Brexit, the UK’s trade with Poland and the joint aid for Ukraine. Hands is the Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham, and has been an MP continuously since 5 May 2005. He is the Minister of State at the Department for International Trade.

British Poles, George Byczynski: Please tell us about your recent trip to Warsaw. What were the aims? What did you achieve? Who did you meet?

Greg Hands: Well, British-Polish trade relations are in a very good place. We’re very like-minded countries, very pro-free market. Bilateral UK-Poland trade is growing. We’re increasingly seeing something I wouldn’t have conceived when I first visited Poland back in 1985. We’re starting to witness Polish investment coming into the UK. Obviously, there’s a lot of UK investment in Poland as well. There’s TF Kable, who owns JDR Cables. They’re employing our offshore wind capability that I was very involved with as energy minister. There’s a really good investment relationship as well between the two countries. Also, I was delighted to meet for the new Solidarity Transport Hroject [CPK – editor’s note], which has UK architects as master planners. So there’s big UK involvement in Poland that I was delighted to be part of during my visit in late November. 

BP: There’s indeed an increasing British investment in Poland. But would you consider the last thirty years and say that British investors were slightly shy about coming to Poland? There’s been huge American investment. Germany also has built really strong trade ties with Poland. When it comes to the UK, of course, there are a number of topics, such as offshore wind farms, the Solidarity transport hub, as well as other projects. But for example, Tesco has left Poland. 

GH: I don’t feel in a position to comment on individual investors. Companies will develop over time. What I’m seeing from the UK’s side is a really strong interest in investing in Poland. Since Brexit, one of the things that I’ve been keen on is making sure that trade flows as freely as possible between Britain and Poland. 

Obviously, the UK has left the Customs Union and the Single Market, so the trade doesn’t flow as easily. But that’s what I’m working practically with the Polish government on. How do we make sure that Polish customs are set up to take British goods? How do we better enable the flow of visas for short-term visits for professionals to work in each other’s market? All these kinds of things are under active discussion with the Polish government and also with the UK government on this side.

BP: How do you sense that British-Polish relations have improved because of the war in Ukraine? Do you sense that there’s a closer need to cooperate when there’s an invasion of one of Poland’s neighbours? 

GH: British-Polish relations have already been very strong. And that comes back a long way to WW2. Later, there were Poland’s dark years under Communism. Then, Margaret Thatcher visited Poland quite often in the 1980s. I mean, there’s always been historically a very strong relationship and that has continued in the last thirty years since the end of Communism. I think it’s not just been on trade relationships but also very strong on the defence and security side. Poland is the UK’s most important ally in Central and Eastern Europe facing Russia and the Russian threat. Obviously, since Vladimir Putin’s illegal and disgraceful invasion of Ukraine on 24 February last year, that relationship has got even stronger. The defence cooperation with British forces stationed in Poland. There’s British equipment for Ukraine coming through Poland. Both countries were also working together on the refugee issue, on which Poland is absolutely on the frontline, with the UK providing assistance there. So I think that the strong relationship between the two Prime Ministers has been really exemplary. The whole of Britain is right behind Ukraine and so is the whole of Poland. We’re very like-minded when it comes to Ukraine. Our eyes are wide open to the security threat from Russia. Both the UK and Poland have been at the forefront of warning our European neighbours over the last years, particularly since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, when Britain and Poland were absolutely at the forefront, along with the Baltic States and other neighbours of Russia. Our fears turned out to be justified in the last year. So I think our relationship is in a fantastic place. 

BP: What’s your message to Polish investors? Some of them are worried that Brexit may have a negative impact on British-Polish trade relations, and that the UK would pivot to Central Asia, to Southern America, and to other countries around the globe. What’s your message to the trade partners in Poland? 

GH: The UK remains a fantastic place to invest. A recent survey by PWC shows that Britain is actually the third-best place in the world to invest. We’re very proud of that, and we make sure that investors get well-treated. You have certainty of the rule of law and certainty of the taxation system. The UK regulatory environment is extremely competitive. I’m working on it in the Department of International Trade. A manufacturing phase in the UK gives you access to a lot of the world. We’re joining the CPTPP trading agreement, which has very liberal rules for original goods. This means that something produced in Britain will now be able to be exported without any difficulty at all to CPTPP members, which include countries like Mexico, Vietnam, Japan, and Canada… For example, an electric vehicle with a battery from Japan would be able to be sold if produced in the UK and then could be easily sold to Canada, Mexico or Vietnam without any difficulty at all. The liberalised trading arrangement that the UK has is also a sign of the ability to locate in the UK to access these free trade agreements. So there are a number of really good arguments. There’s great access to talent. The UK’s got four of the world’s top ten universities and 28 of the top 100 universities in the world. That’s a huge UK talent pool for Polish companies to tap into.  

BP: Thank you for the interview.

Image: UK Parliament

Interviewer: George Byczynski

From the editor: Greg Hands attended the unveiling of the bust of General Władysław Anders organised by British Poles on 25 June 2021. You can read about it in our article Bust of WWII Hero General Anders unveiled in a historic event at the National Army Museum in London.

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