The 4th Polish-British Belvedere Forum in London
With the start of official negotiations on future relations on 2 March, EU-UK cooperation entered a new era. Although the UK’s formal exit from the EU took place at the end of January, most people and companies on both sides of the English Channel may not have noticed it because of a transition period that will last until the end of this year. In the months that remain, however, it is necessary to conclude an EU-UK agreement regulating economic, security, foreign policy, and technological cooperation going forward, otherwise, the current legal framework will be lost without clearly defined alternative solutions.
However, Brexit is not only a fundamental change in EU-UK relations but also deeply affects the bilateral relations of individual EU Member States with Britain. This is particularly evident in the case of Poland, for which the UK is the third-largest trade partner and home to about a million Poles. The two countries also have been closely cooperating in the field of security, both within the EU framework and within NATO.
The need to maintain the quality and intensity of this cooperation after Brexit has prompted both countries to call for the creation and development of bilateral dialogue instruments, such as annual Intergovernmental Consultations (IGC) and the “Quadriga” consultations involving foreign and defence ministers from both countries. Economic relations have been intensified thanks to Business, Trade and Investment Forums (BTIs).
On 3-4 March, the 4th Polish-British Belvedere Forum took place in London. The format was created to facilitate dialogue between the countries. This year’s edition was the first one organised by the leading centres of international expertise in both countries—the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) and Chatham House–Royal Institute of International Relations, instead of the respective ministries of foreign affairs. This change has moved the bilateral dialogue above the political divisions in both countries.
In total, about 300 representatives of leading universities (including Jagiellonian University, Warsaw School of Economics, University of Cambridge, University of Sussex), newspapers (Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, FT, and The Telegraph), think tanks (Lewiatan, PIE, OSW, Institute for Government); business (EBRD, VividQ); civil society (Merseyside Polonia, For Your Freedom and Ours); as well as active or former politicians—Minster Konrad Szymański, Rosena Allin-Khan MP (Labour Party), Gisela Stuart (Wilton Park), Sir David Lidington (RUSI) and Lord Falconer of Thornton PC QC. The forum’s opening session was attended by Paweł Jabłoński, the Polish undersecretary of state for economic cooperation, development and European Union law, and Greg Hands MP, the UK minister of state for international trade. The proceedings were divided into three plenary panels and nine “problem” panels within three themes: social, economic, and international.
The discussions concerned not only current Polish-UK relations (such as the role of people with roots in both countries, as well as visions of bilateral economic and political relations after Brexit) but also the Polish and British responses to key European and global challenges. Special attention was drawn to the issues of national sovereignty and identity, as well as to the future of European policy, including the EU, over the next two decades. Without analysing these issues, it is impossible to understand Brexit, the increase in Eurosceptic sentiments in the EU, or changes in Polish foreign policy in recent years. The discussions about the future economic path concentrated on the labour market in the face of technological challenges related to the “Industrial Revolution 4.0” (artificial intelligence, 5G, Internet of Things) and urban-rural divides in both countries, which require levelling to ensure political stability. Moreover, the Polish experience of negotiating the COP24 agreement in Katowice in 2018 was compared with the British preparations for COP26 in Glasgow in November. Within the social path, the discussion focused on the current and controversial legal and political reforms in both countries, as well as on key values in both societies, including in the context of migration policy. Finally, as part of the international path, the future of transatlantic relations was discussed in light of the U.S. presidential election and the rise of China, as well as the security of the continent and the future of NATO.
Maintaining close Polish-British cooperation after Brexit requires developing the bilateral dialogue, especially since the working contact that had been taking place on the fringes of EU events and forums has ceased. Hence, the key role of the Belvedere Forum—the biggest Polish-British dialogue and the only one with an across-the-board agenda—as an instrument in developing new cooperation networks between the two countries. Direct channels of communication between both societies, which the forum helps to build, may prove particularly valuable in the event of a weakening EU-UK intergovernmental dialogue, especially at a time when Britain is initiating radical changes in its model of relations with the EU and Poland.