Lech Walesa accuses UK of immigration 'irrationality'

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The former Polish president Lech Walesa has accused the UK's prime minister David Cameron of behaving 'irrationally and short-sightedly' over immigration. Mr Walesa was speaking on Polish television.

Mr Walesa became a globally famous figure when he led a strike by the Solidarity union at the Gdansk shipyard in 1980. After the fall of communism in eastern Europe, Mr Walesa became the first democratically elected president of Poland in 1990. He lost power in 1995.

He was being interviewed on Polish television shortly after Mr Cameron had told reporters at the EU summit in Brussels on 20th December 2013 that the UK had made a 'huge mistake' in 2004 by not imposing controls barring Polish migrants from traveling freely to the UK to live and work.

Transitional controls

In 2004, Poland and seven other eastern European countries became members of the EU. Many western European countries imposed 'transitional controls' on free movement of workers from the eight new member states as they were entitled to do by EU law. Only the UK, Ireland and Sweden did not.

At the time, the UK's Labour government said that there was no need to impose controls because only 13,000 people each year were likely to come from the countries to work in the UK and these workers would be helpful for the UK economy.

In the event, it is believed that as many as a million people had arrived in the UK by the end of 2006 and there was considerable anger in the British press at the level of immigration.

Countries must slow down access to each other's labour markets - Cameron

Mr Cameron told journalists at the EU summit that EU countries must 'slow down access to each other's labour markets'. Mr Walesa said that the UK should be grateful to Poland for the role that it had played in defeating communism which had, in turn, saved the UK billions of pounds in reduced defence expenditure.

He claimed that the British should now welcome the Poles to live and work in the UK because, in defeating communism, Poland had suffered greatly; its economy had been all but destroyed.

Poles finished communism – Walesa

He said 'Poles finished communism and Great Britain profited significantly from that. He [Cameron] should not forget that…He should realise that Poles finished off that system [communism] at the cost of 70% of their economy'.

Mr Walesa has written to Mr Cameron to complain about his words as has Jaroslaw Kacznski, the leader of the Polish Law and Justice Party and a former prime minister of Poland.

The Law and Justice Party is part of a right wing grouping with Mr Cameron's Conservative Party in the European Parliament.

UK-Polish cooperation in Europe will suffer

A Law and Justice Party MEP, Marcin Mastalerek, told journalists that Mr Cameron's anti-immigration stance would hinder cooperation between the two parties. He said that it would be 'exceptionally difficult' for the two parties to continue to work together.

Another Law and Justice MEP, Ryszard Czarnecki, who was born in the UK, said that Mr Cameron had made a 'mistaken diagnosis' about Polish immigration to the UK. He said 'The British economy has earned billions of pounds thanks to the work of Polish migrants over the last nine years'.

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