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Japan’s PM calls for May to “minimise damage” for businesses over Brexit

If you’re wondering how the rest of the world sees Brexit, Japan gives us a clue.


At a joint press conference in Tokyo, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said he has asked Theresa May for “transparency and predictability” over Brexit negotiations to “minimise damage” on businesses. It’s a message that Japan is clearly hoping the UK prime minister will take seriously. It also sheds a light on how Brexit is seen beyond the UK and EU – mainly that damage limitation is the best outcome. It’s not really the best bit of advertising to take May’s “global Britain” forward.

From the UK in the EU exit negotiation, there has to be transparency and predictability to minimise any damage on businesses.

We have received that commitment and we value this greatly.

Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan

Although Prime Minister Abe acknowledged they had been reassured by May’s commitment on this, the Financial Times reports he fell short of committing to a quick new UK-Japan trade deal after Brexit. In a joint statement published after the press conference, both prime ministers said they would “continue to champion the early signature and entry into force of the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)” and that this was the “immediate priority”.

As we wrote in a previous article, Theresa May is hoping that a new UK-Japan trade deal could be agreed based on the Japan-EU agreement. The statement suggests this is also Japan’s hope:

As the UK exits the EU, we will work quickly to establish a new economic partnership between Japan and the UK based on the final terms of the EPA”.

You can see the full statement as tweeted by The Sun’s Harry Cole:

This is certainly encouraging. But very much relies on what happens in Brexit negotiations. From Abe’s statement, it’s clear that Japan sees Brexit as a threat to Japanese businesses. Japan has been one of the most vocal about Brexit. It issued a note last September listing its concerns over Brexit, which highlighted how significant it views the UK’s membership of both the single market and customs union is to its interests in the UK. And in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Shinichi Iida, a minister at the Japanese embassy in the UK, reiterated Japan’s stance on Brexit. He said Japan had a “big stake” in Brexit because of the many Japanese businesses and the considerable investment made in the UK as a gateway to the EU.

Japan not in a rush for trade deal with UK

In his interview, Iida also referred to the transition period as being important to giving Japanese businesses time to adapt to whatever comes from Brexit. It’s likely, they hope the UK will continue to be a member of both the customs union and single market in a transition period until a future relationship deal can be agreed. This would, afterall, minimise disruption and damage from the UK crashing out of both. But at the moment, what the transition period will look like is just as unclear as what the future relationship of the EU and UK will look like.

As the third round of negotiations is wrapped up, progress is looking slow with the financial settlement still a big obstacle (the Guardian’s politics live blog has good coverage of today’s joint press conference between Brexit secretary David Davis and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier). There also seems to be a difference of opinion on how progress is going in general…

So while we’ve had some warm and encouraging words in Tokyo, they amount to very little if things don’t go well in Brussels.


Image: © Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com
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