May in Japan seeking ‘model’ trade deal for post-Brexit UK
British Prime Minister Theresa May held her first talks with her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Kyoto, at the start of an intensive three-day visit intended to reassure the country that Britain can swiftly replicate the trade benefits of EU membership after Brexit.
Before meeting Abe, May reiterated her intention to kick-start post-Brexit trade by replicating existing deals signed by the EU, to be amended later as needed, saying this would provide confidence for businesses.
May, who attended a traditional tea ceremony with Abe soon after arriving, said she would be asking Japan to push ahead with talks to seal a wide-ranging EU-Japan trade deal, with the idea this could then be used as a model for a British deal.
Speaking before the tea ceremony, which was followed by a dinner and talks with Abe, May said this model could be used to speed up post-Brexit trade arrangements with other countries.
“We can’t sign up to a trade deal with Japan or with any other country outside of the European Union until we’ve left the European Union,” she told ITV. “I believe we can look at an EU-Japan deal as the basis for a future trade deal between the United Kingdom and Japan.”
Asked what the point was of a copycat deal, May said this could be a starting point, with the arrangements amended as needed after Brexit took effect.
“Even if we start on the basis of an existing trade deal that a country has with the EU, it will be up to the United Kingdom and that country if we wish to renegotiate and change those terms in the future,” she said.
However, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, said the approach amounted to a “cut and paste Brexit”.
“Brexiteers promised a new dawn of improved trade deals across the world. But rather than jet-setting round the globe, Liam Fox might as well be left in a room with a photocopier,” he said.
May is spending three days in Kyoto and Tokyo, which will include an audience with Emperor Akihito.
As well as trade, the visit includes a focus on defence and security, particularly since North Korea fired a missile across Japan on Tuesday.
May, who told reporters on her flight to Japan that China was “the key” in exerting pressure on North Korea, told the BBC she was “pleased that there was a united condemnation” of North Korea from the United Nations Security Council.
May removed her shoes to participate in the tea ceremony at the Omotesenke tea house in Kyoto, where she was greeted by Abe.
The two prime ministers and their interpreters sat on a low bench behind the table, while a master of ceremonies and his two assistants opposite prepared the tea, drunk out of traditional low cups.
She was to travel with Abe on the Shinkansen high-speed train to Tokyo later in the evening. On Thursday, May will visit a Japanese warship and address the country’s national Security Council as well as the trade event, before seeing Akihito on Friday.