Greg Hands MP - Polish Independence Day speech, Trafalgar Square, 8th November, 2008
Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday here in the UK, which marks the end of World War One. For us Britons, the 11th November is all about sombre reflection about the First World War in particular, and war in general, but events like this Polish Independence Day celebration help to remind us in Britain why we fought that war, and at such huge human cost. It was for the independence of nations and to stand up against tyranny. For Poles, 11th November is a day to celebrate the end of more than 130 years of foreign occupation, and we are proud to support you in that celebration.
I am very fortunate to have been to Poland six or seven times now. The first time I went was as a student in 1985. I have been three times on holiday, and was in Poland only 2 days ago, in Krakow.
My constituency is Hammersmith & Fulham, where we have a long tradition of welcoming Poles. POSK is in Hammersmith. The Polish eagle has been in our Hammersmith Mayoral chain since World War Two. I am very proud to have recently been asked to become Vice President of the Conservative Party Friends of Poland.
But I am going to talk more about what Poles have brought to London and wider UK in the last few years.
The Poles are now some 6% of my constituency.
I believe that the Poles are Britain’s most popular ever set of immigrants – I have never heard a bad word said about the Poles. Even more remarkably, this is Britain’s largest set of immigrants since the 17th century.
80% are under 34, so they are young too.
And I hail today’s Poles for their love of freedom and democracy. Almost exactly a year ago, I saw the queues outside POSK waiting to vote in the Polish national election, it took two hours to get to the front.
Last year I was in Nowa Huta. I stood in Ronald Reagan square, and reflected on the words of the great man himself, when he famously said that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” When I saw the new Polish generation queued up outside POSK, I realised that their love of democracy meant that Poland can feel sure that they won’t see the extinction of freedom of democracy.
We heard earlier that parts of the British press have been unfair to the Poles. I want to mention the other part, which I think is in the majority. For many there is a favourite UK press theme – how much we British love the Poles. And vice versa. In fact, the two countries seem to be locked into a love affair. Looking through old press articles, I like some of the interviews given by Poles in the UK. This one is from the Times in 2006 I like - a Lucasz Skalecki, 27. He may even be here today. “I think I’ll be here when I retire,” he said. “I don’t understand cricket or rugby, but I feel comfortable in England.”
But there are problems – every time I visit a homeless project in my constituency, there is often a small group of Poles for whom life in the UK hasn’t worked out.
Connections between UK and Poland could hardly be easier and stronger now. In Krakow airport on Thursday, I was struck by seeing flights to Belfast, Liverpool, Bristol & Newcastle. Twenty ago there were only two daily flights between our two countries – both London to Warsaw – one BA, one LOT.
Finally, I salute the contribution being made by Poles in Britain today. Recently, there has been talk of the Poles going home. I hope this isn’t true. It is their choice of course, but I know that I speak for almost everyone in Britain when I say – we have loved having you here, and please don’t go! If you do decide to go, then thank you for all you have given us recently, and please think about coming back again.
I wish you all the very best on this day, Polish independence day.