Brexit: Polish builders defiant but admit future is 'uncertain' after EU referendum vote

Worried Poles say they are 'shocked, scared and lost' and many may go home

Ted Jeory
Friday 24 June 2016 11:56
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Iwona Masacz has lived in UK for 27 years but voted Leave in referendum
Iwona Masacz has lived in UK for 27 years but voted Leave in referendum

The editor of one of the most popular Polish news sites in Britain knows her readers well. And judging by their reaction to the referendum result throughout the morning, Adriana Chodakowska says the 900,000-strong Polish community in Britain is lost, scared and uncertain.

Her Londynek website has been seeing record traffic and it has been been inundated with comments from readers desperately worried about their future in the UK. She says they have all been asking one main question: “Should I go home?

“They’re lost, they’re shocked.” she told The Independent. “They’re wondering what is ahead for them, what’s next.

“Personally, I didn’t expect this. I’ve lived here 12 years and I never thought this could happen. I always thought the UK was a multicultural country that welcomes immigrants from all over the world, but I’m not sure it feels like this now.”

Her news website is based at the Polish Cultural Association near Hammersmith in west London. It houses a library, small community organisations, an advice centre and a café – and is on a 500-metre stretch of road that also includes Polish delis and building companies.

Adriana Chodakowska, editor of Londynek news website (Ted Jeory)

It is a little corner of Poland in London, and one of many that are now dotted around the UK. The Polish builder and Polish plumber were the original Brexit bogeymen when they “swarmed” to the UK on Poland's accession to the EU in 2003

They were accused of undercutting British workers but over time their work ethic won many around. Many even started their own businesses.

Builder and businessman Wojciech Kotarba is proud of his work for UK (Ted Jeory)

One was Wojciech Kotarba, 36. Early this morning he was sitting in a white van just around the corner from the cultural centre as east European labourers from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria stood waiting to see if their work would be needed for the day.

Wearing a T-shirt showing a bowler hat and the UK’s Union flag, he said he had lived in London for 12 years. He said the labourers were worried but that they worked hard and were invaluable to the UK economy.

“We’ve made profits for this country,” he said. “I haven’t taken benefits once. What the British have decided is up to them, but I think they’ve made a mistake. I’m proud of our contribution and I know some people will definitely return to Poland because they’re concerned about visas.

“But the immigrants will still come, that’s for sure. Just look at Calais.

“You know what, I never thought the British really felt European. They always talk about ‘going on holiday to Europe’. I think Britain is perhaps just a suburb of Europe.”

Back at the cultural centre’s Café Mayo, Iwona Masacz sips her coffee. She’s lived here 27 years and decided to vote Leave. “What’s happening in Europe is dangerous with all this immigration. Mrs Merkel is playing a dangerous game.”

Even to some Poles, the message of Nigel Farage struck a chord.

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