As long standing British citizens of Polish origin who have lived and worked here since our parents had fought alongside the British Armed Forces to defeat Nazi Germany during World War Two, our generation was largely supportive when the United Kingdom joined the then European Common Market in 1973 and very enthusiastic indeed when a free independent post-Communist Poland was able to accede to the EU in 2004. Many young Poles were finally given the same opportunity that Western Europeans had enjoyed for two generations, namely access to a Europe-wide free market economy which also guaranteed democracy, human rights and safety from external invasion. Although the Polish economy still has much catching up to do to match Western European living standards, yet its younger generation has impressed the UK with its industrious and entrepreneurial work ethic as well as its growing contribution to Western culture and education. More than 700,000 Polish citizens have remained here, many of them setting up families here and ensuring a steady input into the British economy and UK exchequer. Largely, with some inevitable exceptions, they are integrating into the UK economic and social mainstream as smoothly as our generations did more than half a century ago, while retaining also the best of their distinct Polish culture and national traditions.
It is understandable that, with the current stagnation in the Eurozone and with the on-going crisis in the British economy, British citizens and their political parties are seeking to redefine how the EU should work and also their own relationship to the Union. However we are increasingly aware that the newer communities of Poles and other Central Europeans who have lived and worked here legally since 2004 are being singled out as scapegoats by irresponsible politicians from all parties, anxious to curry favour with the recent upsurge in a more intense anti-European sentiment in this country. There are threats and insinuations about their right to work and travel, to their access to the health service and basic benefits, despite the fact that they are now long-term UK taxpayers. EU citizens from Central Europe have every right to live and work here not only under current EU regulations on the free movement of labour but also under UK immigration laws on permanent residence and UK citizenship.
I would appeal to these irresponsible politicians to desist from the insidious and cowardly sniping at Poles and other EU citizens. While this behaviour strengthens the prejudices of those seeking to blame the current crisis on foreigners, I doubt that it will convert any of them to support a mainstream party, and it will not impress the electorate at large and convince it of the sincerity of those politicians most of whom expressed quite different opinions barely five years ago. Nor should they think that making Poles scapegoats for the ills of the British economy is an electorally win/win strategy. In the spring of this year the total number of Polish citizens on the London electoral register amounted to 98,799, nearly as large as that of an Inner London Borough. As a quarter of the Polish population in the UK lives in London that indicates a total of some 400,000 votes of Polish citizens in this country eligible to vote next May in the European and local elections. That figure also does not include some tens of thousands of second and third generation British citizens of Polish origin who will object strongly to parties and candidates that seek to gain short term popularity by making derogatory comments about their fellow countrymen. Is this a sleeping giant that those errant politicians are seeking to raise against themselves?
Our organization members urges that any future debate on UK-EU relations will be conducted on a more rational and less chauvinistic basis paying proper respect to all those who contribute to the UK economy and way of life.
Issued by Wiktor Moszczyński, Chair, Stowarzyszenie Polskich Kombatantów Ltd, (Polish Veteran Support Association) 48 Inglis Road, London W5 3RW - tel 0208 992 7816 ; 07553018956