Brexit has let UK respond quickly on Russia and Ukraine, says Polish foreign minister

Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, sits at a desk in front of the Polish and EU flags
Radoslaw Sikorski went to university with Boris Johnson and Lord Cameron at Oxford - Piotr Wojcik/Picture Doc/Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry

Brexit has allowed Britain to respond quickly to Russian aggression and claim a leadership role on aid to Ukraine, Poland’s foreign minister has told The Telegraph.

Radoslaw Sikorski said that the UK could move faster than EU member states. It did not have to reach consensus in a 27-member bloc on issues such as sanctions against the Kremlin and aid to Ukraine.

“The UK has found a niche, a very useful and honourable one, namely to take advantage of its quick decision-making. You do the right thing before others, and therefore encourage the rest of us,” he said.

Mr Sikorski said that it would be “ideal” if Ukraine won the war and echoed the call from Lord Cameron, the British Foreign Secretary, for Nato allies to meet their defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP.

Poland, which borders both Ukraine and Russia, has ramped up its defence spending to 4 per cent of GDP this year. The UK has pledged to raise its spending to 2.5 per cent.

“Poland leads by example. Even more than the UK, because we are spending 4 per cent this year, which is the highest proportion in Nato – including the United States,” Mr Sikorski said.

He said that he expected the “overwhelming majority of allies” to hit the target, which was set a decade ago, by a Nato summit in July.

‘Welcome change of British policy’

“It’s really high time,” said the Oxford-educated minister, who went to university with Boris Johnson and Lord Cameron.

Mr Sikorski was speaking after Lord Cameron, his fellow Bullingdon Club member, urged European allies to boost their defence spending earlier this month.

“Well, that’s a very welcome change of British policy”, he said.

“Let me remind you that we only have a European defence budget as a benefit of Brexit – because before Brexit, as you know, Britain consistently vetoed [it].”

But he added that Britain had kept a security leadership role in Europe after Brexit.

Mr Sikorski said, “The UK is, in absolute numbers, the biggest spender, and has done a great job over Ukraine. We’re very grateful.

“Britain has been consistently good in standing up to Putin. I suppose the Russian death squads in Britain have helped, in that sense, alerted you to the nature of the beast.

“Boris was ahead of the curve on Ukraine, and David [Cameron] has worked with us very closely. We communicate very often, our security services collaborate closely”.

‘We respect your decision’

This month, Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, said that Poles would be richer than the Brits in five years because of Brexit.

He took the figures from a Labour forecast based on World Bank data that said Poland would outstrip the UK in GDP per capita by 2030.

“The standard of living depends on at least two factors. Number one is current income. Number two is accumulated wealth,” Mr Sikorski said.

“Britain has been wealthier than Poland for a thousand years, and you have some assets – a global language, top universities, Shakespeare, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the British Museum, London – that we just don’t have. So don’t worry. You will still be richer than us for a long time.”

“I believe we now have more motorways,” he added, which is true in the case of England but not the whole UK.

“When I became a refugee in Britain in the early 1980s, I would not have imagined a world in which Poland would be in the EU and Britain wouldn’t,” he said, before admitting he never expected his old friend Mr Johnson to be the man who delivered Brexit.

He added: “We respect your decision and we respect your preference, to work closely with the EU or otherwise. The fact is that Britain was once in the room at the Foreign Affairs Council, and now it has to ask others what transpired inside the room. I wouldn’t call that an enhancement of your status.”

He confirmed that he has already engaged with Labour – which will pursue closer ties with Brussels if elected – on foreign policy on multiple occasions.