British Prime Minister Theresa May made brief stops in two eastern members of the European Union on Thursday, stressing that her government seeks to remain engaged with them—and even intensify ties—despite its plans to leave the bloc.
“Britain will remain an outward-looking nation—a strong voice for liberal, free market principles and democratic values,” May said in Bratislava, Slovakia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
She traveled next to Warsaw, Poland, the largest of the EU’s eastern members. There, she addressed an issue key to Poles and their government— the fate of the 850,000 Poles living in the U.K.
Until Britain actually leaves the EU, she said Poles will see no change to their rights in the U.K. In the future their rights will depend on what form of relationship London manages to negotiate with EU leaders.
“I want and expect to be able to guarantee their rights in the U.K. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the rights of British citizens living across the EU were not guaranteed,” she said.
“The U.K.’s exit from the EU should not weaken our relationship with Poland, indeed we should strengthen it,” she said.
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In both capitals she stressed that the will of the British people to limit the movement of people—as reflected in the vote to leave the bloc—must be respected in any future arrangement with the EU.
In Warsaw, she also said that “Poles living in the U.K. continue to be welcome and we value the contribution that they make to our country.”
She also condemned the “shameful and despicable attacks” against Poles and other foreigners living in Britain following the vote in June to leave the EU.