Theresa May has said she wants Japan’s EU trade deal to also form the basis of a new agreement with the UK after Brexit, but was immediately accused by opponents of overplaying her chances of success.
The Prime Minister touched down in Japan in a bid to lay the ground for future trade relations and to showcase British business.
But Labour claimed the trip had been organised because Ms May had been “spooked” by early decisions of firms, including a Japanese investment bank, to quit the UK, while the Liberal Democrats said the trip underlined the “absurdity” of the Government’s Brexit strategy.
Arriving in Japan, Ms May said: “When we leave the European Union, there's obviously a number of trade deals that the EU has with other countries and we are looking the possibility of those being able to be brought over into trade deals with the United Kingdom.
“What Japanese businesses and other businesses have asked us to look at is this issue of the certainty going forward of not having a cliff edge.”
Ms May will be pushing for progress on an “ambitious” trade deal ready for when the UK quits the European Union and will attempt to reassure Japanese businesses that the UK will not fall off a cliff-edge when it quits the EU.
A 15-strong delegation of UK business leaders, along with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox are flying out for the visit and will attend the UK Japan business forum in central Tokyo, where the PM will make a speech.
Downing Street said the group, which includes Andy Palmer, Aston Martin president, David Wright, senior adviser at Barclays Capital Investment, CBI director general Carolyn Fairburn, and Karen Bett, chief executive officer of the Scotch Whisky Association, “showcases the strength” of British business.
However, shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Barry Gardiner said Japan had been clear that any future trade agreement will only be possible once the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU has itself been clarified – with talks on the matter yet to begin.
Mr Gardiner said: “Japan has been entirely consistent on this point. Indeed they were the first country to send a detailed position paper to our government setting out their concerns for Japanese companies operating in the UK and trading into the wider EU market from their base here.
“Whilst Theresa May is desperately trying to spin this visit as scoping out a future bilateral trade and investment agreement, the reality is that the Government is spooked by the fact that Japanese banks like Nomura have already announced their intention to relocate their European HQ to Frankfurt.”
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has said it was farcical that the government briefed that a post-Brexit Britain would seek a trade deal with Japan based on the existing EU-Japan deal.
He said: “This staggering statement by the government just adds a whole new level of absurdity to their negotiating strategy. It is now saying that the best trade deal we can possibly hope for with Japan post-Brexit is the trade deal we already have as a member of the EU.
“The likes of Liam Fox were promising a new dawn of improved trade deals but this clearly shows that even the government now recognises that the best possible deal we can get with one of the world's largest economies is the deal negotiated by the EU.”
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