Blair says reforms will go Full Monty

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair started his visit to Japan yesterday by promising "to go the Full Monty" in reforming the British economy. He also insisted that Britain's failure to join the first wave of European Monetary Union would do nothing to deter Japanese investment. Richard Lloyd Parry observed the response in Tokyo.

In a cultural allusion that puzzled many Japanese members of his audience, Mr Blair referred to the hit film about a group of unemployed northerners who make a living as strippers, in explaining his vision for Britain.

"When it comes to putting our economy on a secure footing for the long term, we intend to go the Full Monty, to use the vernacular," Mr Blair said at a dinner gathering of senior Japanese diplomats, businessmen and politicians, few of whom had the remotest idea what he was talking about. "To those who may not know what that means, it is an expression of absolute determination," he added.

Mr Blair and his team are in Japan for five days and, behind the polite diplomatic platitudes, they have two principal goals. The first is to dispel Japanese unease about the Government's failure to take part in the first wave of Emu, and to maintain Britain's position as the leading beneficiary of Japanese investment in Europe. On this count they yesterday claimed a prize.

Within a few hours of landing in Tokyo, Mr Blair announced a project by Toyota, which will expand its engine plant in Deeside, creating 310 jobs with an investment of pounds 150m. This was especially welcome given the fuss last year when Toyota's president, Hiroshi Okuda, hinted that Britain's absence from Emu would jeopardise inward investment.

"This underlies the view of much Japanese business that Britain is the most competitive place for manufacturing cars in Europe," said Mr Blair. "[The ability of] Japanese companies to trade with the rest of Europe in the euro will be assured."

But he failed to point out that the Deeside plant will be supplying engines to a much bigger car factory, awarded to France after Britain's attempt to win it failed last month. And few analysts believe that Britain is likely to win any more big auto investments in the medium term.

Mr Blair's second goal is to replace the typical Japanese perception of Britain, as a picturesque, traditional land of pageantry, fog and Beatrix Potter, and focus, in Mr Blair's words, on "Britain's creativity, vigour and youth, its dynamism today".

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