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Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski building links with his Polish homeland

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

Sitting in a cafe in downtown Warsaw, the boom of businesses, buzz of people and noise of buses and cars provided the backdrop to a lively, vibrant, growing European capital city.

And it signified a city a world away from when Polish-born Shropshire MP Daniel Kawczynski revisited his home town in 1983 – the first time he had gone back to the country he left as a seven-year-old with his parents in 1978.

Now, just more than 30 years later, Mr Kawczynski was bringing his eight-year-old daughter Alexis to his homeland for the first time – a moment he described as "poignant and emotional".

Prime Minister David Cameron

Shropshire MP Daniel Kawczysnki has urged voters to "think very, very carefully" before making their mind up about the forthcoming EU referendum.

A referendum on Britain's European Union membership will be held by the end of 2017 and the Conservative Shrewsbury MP has described it as a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

Mr Kawczynski refused to be drawn on how he would vote but said he hopes the country would vote to stay in following Mr Cameron's renegotiation of the UK's relationship with Europe.

Speaking in Warsaw, he said: "I have reached an agreement with the Conservative Association in Shrewsbury that we will wait to see what the outcome is of the renegotiation before deciding collectively as a party in Shrewsbury how we are going to be campaigning. There are many differing views about Europe within the Conservative Party as well as throughout the country but for me personally and instinctively I very much hope that the renegotiation will be sufficient to convince many in my party and in the country to vote to remain in."

Pushed on how he would vote in the referendum, he said: "It would be a little bit premature now to definitively give an answer on how I will vote when we don't yet know what the outcome of the renegotiation is. If it is the case, as has been reported, that the renegotiation could be finalised by December with a referendum next June, then we will need to start very quickly campaigning and finding out what the terms are of the renegotiation because it will be soon upon us."

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Mr Kawczynski, who is the Prime Minister's special advisor on central and eastern Europe and helps build relationships between British and Polish politicians and businesses, said he believed trade would continue between those two countries no matter what the outcome of the referendum.

His message to Salopian voters was to "think very, very carefully" before casting their votes.

He said: "There will be huge number of people who haven't made up their minds and at this stage aren't sure and this could potentially be only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them.

"So people will want to think very, very carefully before deciding how they are going to vote and despite raw emotions, they will want to critically analyse what they perceive to be in their country's national interest."

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"I remember coming back for the first time in March, 1983, after General Wojciech Jaruzelski lifted martial law", Mr Kawczynski, 43, said.

"This country was completely unrecognisable from what it is today. There was nothing. Everything was grey all the cars were Soviet-type vehicles, everything was rationed – meat, sugar, chocolate, the queues for petrol were a mile long.

"It was sheer poverty and that is what communism did to this country.

"You had to have a visa to get here and people were spying on you. There were secret police everywhere and they were informants so it was difficult to say anything publicly for fear of the communists taking reprisals against you or your family.

"Now think about that, 1983, to what it is like now – a thriving, prosperous European capital city with the standard of living rapidly growing."

And it is in that city where the Shrewsbury and Atcham MP is hoping to help build the relationship between Britain and Poland.

He spoke to Polish parliamentarians last Friday about trade and co-operation saying the countries could build on their "special" relationship in the 21st century.

"I think being the first and only British MP to have been born in Warsaw brings added responsibility on me to further links between the two countries," he said. "So I come here from time to time to try and build up better relations between the British and Polish parliament.

"We are commemorating in the autumn the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Battle of Britain and the largest foreign contingent in the Battle of Britain was Poland, including my grandfather, for example, so these links stem from that extraordinary collaboration during the Second World War.

"What I also point out to Polish parliamentarians is the extraordinary help that Britain has given Poland, uniquely, during communism and after communism and their entry to the EU.

"So there has been a lot of very good partnership by both sides during the war and right up to this moment in time."

Mr Kawczynski said organisations such as the British Polish Chamber of Commerce were thriving and helping increase bi-lateral trade.

He said: "The BPCC is actually one of the best in Europe and they have had rip-roaring success with working collaboratively with UK Trade and Investment to increase bi-lateral trade.

"The two countries will be brought together, despite our cultural and language barriers, over the coming years because of the sheer scale of trade between us.

"Unfortunately in communist times this country was cut off from Britain by the iron curtain. Now we are living in a free Europe those links and are only going to grow, so I see a massive collaboration between the two countries stemming from this huge bilateral trade."

Modern – Poland provides trade opportunities

He said that also benefited Shropshire firms: "Shropshire is doing very well economically and I do help Shropshire firms export to Poland and put them in touch with various opportunities and help them try to export here because our own country's prosperity is very much inextricably linked with our ability to export."

He said this relationship could continue whatever the outcome of the upcoming referendum on EU membership.

"I am not one of these people who think that if we leave the EU all the barriers will come up and it will be impossible for us to trade – they will need to trade with us and we will need to trade with them," he added.

Beautiful – Historic Warsaw has much to offer

"I do think we would lose out politically and lose a lot of influence in Europe if we pulled out but I have a lot of confidence that British exporters will still be able to trade with Poland and other countries no matter what happens."

Mr Kawczynski has previously spoken out against the negative representation of Polish immigrants to the UK since the country joined the EU in 2004 but said the situation was improving.

He added: "Now that communism has fallen you can see here on the streets of Warsaw just how quick the pace is and they are rapidly catching up with western Europe and during the course of my daughter's lifetime I think they will be on par with western Europe and back to where they were which is absolutely fantastic."

And he urged businesses to get in touch. "If any Shropshire firm, business, enterprise or anyone in the education sector, if any Salopian entity would like to find out more about opportunities of exporting to Poland, with the links that we are building here with the Chamber of Commerce and the Government they ought to contact me and we will put them in touch with the appropriate people," he added.

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