Japan’s Prime Minister has said that his country offers its “total support” to Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Speaking alongside Mrs May following talks at 10 Downing Street, Shinzo Abe said that the “whole world” was hoping that the UK would not crash out of the European Union without a deal.
He made clear that Japanese companies, who employ more than 150,000 people in the UK, valued the legal stability offered by the transition period included in the Brexit deal agreed by Mrs May with Brussels.
“Japan and the UK have been building a very strong partnership, not only in the political arena but also the economic arena,” said Mr Abe.
“For Japan, the UK is the gateway to the European market – Japanese businesses have created 1,000 bases in the UK offering more than 150,000 jobs.
“It is the strong will of Japan to further develop this strong partnership with the UK, to invest more into your country and to enjoy further economic growth with the UK.
“That is why we truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, and in fact that is the whole wish of the whole world.
“Japan is in total support of the draft Withdrawal Agreement worked out between the EU and Prime Minister May which provides for transition to ensure legal stability for businesses that have invested into this country.”
Mr Abe’s comments will be seen as a major boost for Mrs May as she fights to win the support of the House of Commons for her Withdrawal Agreement in a crucial vote next Tuesday.
The Japanese PM said: “The world is watching the UK as it exits the European Union.”
And in a personal tribute to Mrs May, he said: “I would like to extend my deepest respect for the strong will and hard work by Theresa for the parliamentary approval of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Mrs May reiterated her plea to MPs to back her agreement to avoid no-deal.
“The only way to avoid no-deal is to have a deal and to agree a deal, and the deal that is on the table, the deal that is the deal that the EU has made clear is the only deal,” she said.
Mr Abe said post-Brexit, Japan intends to maintain a “very good relationship” with the UK and that he hoped “more investment will be done by Japanese businesses to the United Kingdom so that both nations can enjoy economic growth together”.
“This draft agreement for transition and legal stability for Japanese businesses is very much welcomed and we truly hope that this is realised, but of course it is the people of the UK who will make the final decision but at any rate Japan and the UK will be further developing our bilateral economic ties,” he said.
Mrs May told the Japanese PM that relations with his country would be “increasingly important” as the UK leaves the EU and “raise our horizons towards the rest of the world”.
“Our exit from the EU provides an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen this trade and investment relationship,” she said.
She hailed Mr Abe’s commitment to an “ambitious bilateral arrangement” building on the recently-completed EU-Japan free trade deal.
And she welcomed the Japanese PM’s “positive comments” about the possibility of the UK becoming part of the CPTPP Pacific free trade alliance.
“That is certainly something that we are interested in pursuing and we look forward to taking those discussions further,” said the British PM.
Mr Abe’s visit has been marked by Japan lifting a 23-year ban on UK beef and lamb imports, imposed during the mad cow disease crisis of 1996, which Downing Street said could be worth £127 million to British farmers over the next five years.
The Japanese PM was also briefed by UK security experts at Twickenham Stadium on the policing of major events, ahead of his country hosting the Rugby World Cup later this year.
Mrs May said she and Mr Abe had agreed “a deep and dynamic partnership to shape the 21st century together”, involving collaboration in areas like artificial intelligence, green energy and the use of big data.
She restated the UK’s commitment to a defence partnership with Japan, including the deployment of Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose to the region later this year to help enforce sanctions on North Korea.
“We look forward to working closely with you to ensure a more peaceful, prosperous world,” Mrs May told Mr Abe.
“And I am confident that our shared optimism and close friendship will see our nations stand together to shape our shared future.”
Mr Abe said that Japan’s relationship with the UK had made “unprecedented progress” since a visit by Mrs May to the east Asian island state in 2017 and was now “closer than ever”.
“At today’s meeting, Prime Minister May and I confirmed that Japan and the UK are closest friends and partners as we strive to uphold rules-based international order and to promote global and regional security, as well as free trade,” he said.
“Our relations have been elevated to the next level.”