Poland could welcome a Brexit deal with the UK that limits freedom of movement because it would stop highly qualified Poles leaving home in search of work in Britain, the country's deputy prime minister has told BuzzFeed News.
In an interview in London on Thursday, Mateusz Morawiecki said his government was "ambivalent" on the freedom of movement issue. "On the one hand we should have the same rules for the UK if the UK wants the rest of the EU to be accessible for its goods and services, financial services for instance," he said.
"But on the other hand I am not in favour of another wave of Polish migration to the UK. We need people in Poland, we have lots of jobs to be filled. For me, as minister for economic development, this is the most important thing: to find a balance between a freedom of movement of migrant workers which should not negatively impact Poland's economic growth prospects."
Morawiecki added: "We would like to incentivise well-educated creative people not to come here to work in a pub, but to work for national and international companies in Poland."
On Wednesday, prime minister Theresa May reiterated that Brexit would mean controls on freedom of movement – which EU leaders have repeatedly said would remove the possibility of the UK retaining access to the single market with the types of relationship enjoyed by Norway or Switzerland.
Both countries have access to the single market, and Swiss and Norwegian nationals have the right to live and work in the EU, while EU nationals have the same rights in both countries.
But Morawiecki said controls on free movement need not kill off the possibility of a similar deal for the UK. He said it was a “delicate issue” because the right to work in Switzerland and Norway was different from the rights of EU citizens to work in EU countries.
“We have to work out how the future rules of a single European market without the UK will work, from the point of view of the UK and from the point of view of the EU exporting to the UK," he said. "But I can imagine how the relationship between the EU, and Norway and Switzerland could be a guidance to negotiations.
“People in Italy can settle in Portugal, for example, in Norway it is different.”
The deputy prime minister said that many of his conversations in London with international investors on Thursday were focussed on creating the conditions in Poland for its citizens to return home.
"For us, we have lost nearly 1 million people to the UK," he said. "I hope some of them will go back to Poland. We now have almost full employment, unemployment is at historic lows. I'd like to encourage people here to go back."
But he was also adamant that Poles already settled in the UK should retain the right to remain after Britain leaves the EU, and that this should not be up for negotiation.
"The rights of these people should be maintained, both in terms of benefits, pensions, health care benefits, civil rights etc," he said. "They should be exactly as they were when acquired, based on the current legal situation. This should be beyond the negotiations, and should not be up for negotiation, people who came here based on previous legal status should maintain this legal status."
Morawiecki said his government was very concerned by the rise in hate crimes targeting EU nationals following the Leave vote in June – an issue which he said could play into the Brexit talks.
He told BuzzFeed News that "everything that is happening right now should be viewed in the context of future Brexit negotiations", but added that he hoped the divorce would be as painless as possible because the UK was an important partner especially in the context of NATO and security.
Although Brexit would probably weaken the EU's ability to deal with issues such as the threat of Russian aggression and the refugee crisis, he said it could at the same time strengthen Britain's presence in NATO, he added.
Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alberto Nardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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