Why so many Poles have already left Britain?

I was delighted to receive an email this week from a good friend of mine, Roger Casale, founder of the New Europeans and also a former Member of the UK Parliament.

Roger emailed to say that one of his colleagues, Peter Conradi, who is Sunday Times Europe’s Editor, was running a story this weekend about the reasons why so many Poles have already left the UK. I was really pleased that I had an opportunity to speak to Peter and that the article itself was published in yesterday’s paper. It was a fascinating conversation, which, probably for the first time, helped me to pause and reflect on the causes of the Polish nationals’ departure from the UK. This trend has already directly affected many of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen.

It is estimated that almost a million Poles lived in the UK before the Brexit vote. Some, mainly anecdotal evidence, suggests that around 200,000 members of the Polish community have now left the UK. It is a significant exodus of Poles, which, in my view, might continue in the future. So what are the reasons why people have left or are leaving?

The Brexit vote, its consequences and post-Brexit uncertainty is definitely one of the key reasons. I do feel that many of us didn’t really know which direction the country was going to take. Will my immigration status change? Will I be able to work, buy or rent a house? Will my civic rights be safeguarded and protected? Many of my friends felt in a “limbo state”. For some, the result of the Brexit vote had also some emotional connotations of feeling “unwanted” or as a second class citizen. Many might have felt that our contribution was not valued and recognised.

In my view, the health pandemic repercussions; inability to travel, visiting our loved ones (often elderly and in need) or job insecurity triggered in people a complete shift in their decision making process. The freedom of movement, one of the pillars of the European identity and something which me and my family have hugely benefited from, has in a way ended. Many of us had to ask ourselves a number of existential questions, and balance the importance of life opportunities against the need to look after or be close to our family members. Has the pandemic strengthened the family relations for many Europeans? Quite possibly.

There was one other factor, in my view significant, which “helped” people to decide; the state of the Polish economy. Pre-pandemic world seems like a distant memory, however it is important to emphasise that the Polish economy had been doing very well before the pandemic hit: the standard of living, wages and endless (literally) employment opportunities in Poland might have been the reasons why some Poles decide to make a move.

Am I worried? Yes. Only this weekend, my Mum and my brother sent us a lovely parcel from Poland, which included some sweets, Polish dumplings and clothes. It was rather interesting to talk to the driver (at 1am in the morning!) about the journey through Europe, which, particularly while crossing the UK channel, had its challenges. The delivery driver felt that it might get worse when the traffic increases. So…we were told that so-called “red tape” will be reduced. We were told that it will be easier to trade. We were told that Britain will lead the advancement of the global economy. In a way, something the opposite is happening – UK exports to the EU dropped by 40% in January. When the pandemic is over, the government will have to eventually stop blaming the EU or COVID for its failures, inefficiency and inability to fulfil their promises, often broken.

I must admit that the subject of migration, global phenomenon, fascinates me hugely. Our lives post Brexit and post COVID will be different, however I do believe that our desire to move around and broaden our horizons will never stop. Let’s hope that many of us find “home” whether we go and whether we settle.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and former councillor

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  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Mar '21 - 4:59pm

    Why did so many in the A8 and A2 feel the need to vote with their feet in the first place?

    As to leaving the EU I will simply make the point that post Lisbon there was always an exit. It was never whimsy.

  • Michal,

    this paper by Portes and Oconnor https://www.escoe.ac.uk/estimating-the-uk-population-during-the-pandemic/ suggests the total population of the UK may have fallen by “more than 1.3 million during the pandemic. While total population was almost flat in the late 1970s, if this is even close to being accurate, this is the largest fall in the UK resident population since World War 2.”
    “The impact has been largest in London. While the published statistics say that the resident population has grown over the year, our estimate implies that the resident population of London might have fallen by nearly 700,000. Much of this may be temporary, if non-UK born people return to London after the pandemic; but it may not. Big shifts in population trends in London, driven by economic changes and events, are by no means historically unprecedented – Inner London’s population shrank by fully 20% in the 1970s, so the recent picture of sustained growth driven by international migration is relatively recent. If this has now reversed, the medium to long-term implications for London will be profound.”

    The data for the UK migrant population is highly uncertain as the Migration observatory notes https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/commentaries/where-did-all-the-migrants-go-migration-data-during-the-pandemic/

    Your article suggests that this outward migration may be permanent i.e.with Brexit and the new immigration rules, we should not expect a new influx of young Polish migrants to pick-up where there returning countrymen left off. That will be a big loss for the UK.

  • Richard O'Neill 15th Mar '21 - 7:07pm

    To me, this will be a big loss. Although several Polish friends have remained in London, their roots being so firmly here now. And I am pleased Poland was doing well, economically. After the past century, few countries deserve to so more than Poland.

    I do remain optimistic that there will be a rebound.

  • I hope the stated intention of treating all countries equally will be fulfilled. If eu country immigrants can enter this country as easily as those from Australia or Uganda then I have no issue. Discrimination against eu citizens is another matter entirely.

  • Funny how some right wing bugle blowers object to having Poles in the country. The best boss that I ever had fought with the Free Poles all the way up Italy including losing a third of his men at Montecassino. But that’s different.

  • @ Alex B. Well said, Alex.

    And of course, 303 Squadron, consisting of Polish pilots, was the highest scoring squadron in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

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