LONDON (Reuters) - Foreign minister Boris Johnson said Poles in Britain “will be protected, whatever happens” after Brexit, in comments publicized on Thursday that appeared to go further than Prime Minister Theresa May on guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens.
Johnson was speaking on Oct. 17 at the Belvedere Forum on UK-Polish relations, according to the British Embassy in Warsaw in remarks which were reported by The Guardian newspaper on Thursday.
“I have only one message for you all tonight, you know exactly what it is: You are loved, you are welcome, your rights will be protected, whatever happens,” Johnson said in a video posted by the embassy on its Twitter feed.
Earlier this month, May said it was a priority to protect EU citizens’ rights and an agreement with the EU was near but the government has resisted calls to unilaterally guarantee their rights.
In a letter to EU citizens last week, May said:
“I want to give reassurance that this issue remains a priority, that we are united on the key principles, and that the focus over the weeks to come will be delivering an agreement that works for people here in the UK, and people in the EU.”
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Johnson was not diverging from May’s comments: “The Foreign Secretary was simply reiterating our determination to achieve this.”
Last year there were just over 900,000 Poles living in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics and Johnson praised their contribution to British life including through 30,000 businesses.
But some have returned home in recent months, concerned about their status following the Brexit referendum which many saw as a vote against recent immigration from Eastern Europe.
Johnson, who is known for his outspoken comments, has professed loyalty to May in recent weeks but his interventions have been seen as undermining her authority, which was severely weakened after a botched June 7 snap election.
Editing by Stephen Addison