UK seeks views on Brexit from Japan partners

Nov. 1, 2017

The British government is continuing to reach out to Japan’s government and business community for their views on current and post-Brexit UK-Japan relations.

Visiting Japan in October, Antony Phillipson, then director of trade and partnerships in the Department for Exiting the European Union, met a roundtable of BCCJ members to give an update on Brexit developments and get insight from their respective industries.

His two-day fact-finding visit was designed to ensure the time between now and exit is used to arrange new UK-Japan agreements to replace the existing EU ones that will be disrupted when the UK leaves the union.

Accompanied by HM Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden CMG, Mr Phillipson began by offering a candid report on work related to the EU divorce, reassuring attendees that the UK “can and will be a gateway to Europe after Brexit.”

“The whole point of Brexit is not for the UK to turn in on itself, to shut down access to the rest of the world, to bring up barriers and so on. It is to allow the UK to go its own way in the world, to deepen partnerships with partners like Japan,” he said. “Our ambition is to have a future relationship with the EU that involves a very deep and comprehensive economic relationship and security relationship.

“We need to explain to partners in the business community or partners such as the Japanese government how we are going to deliver a Brexit that achieves the ambition that we set out,” Mr Phillipson continued, pointing out that it involves two aspects.

First is “delivering a new relationship with the EU in a way that allows us to continue to be a prime location for highly mobile investment, especially in the context of Japan” and second is “leaving [the EU] in a way that doesn’t disrupt the relations and agreements that have evolved between the UK and Japan, mostly through our membership of the EU over the past 40 years.”

Mr Phillipson said Brexit offered an opportunity to deepen strong relations with Japan, both politically and economically. Moreover, Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Japan in late August was “incredibly successful” and showed a “high-level, shared ambition in taking the relationship to a new level.”

“Our challenge is to go about Brexit in a way that makes [that new level] easy to achieve,” he added.

Describing comments by the Japanese government and Keidanren in the past 12 to 15 months as “important” and “helpful,” he explained that the British government would only succeed in Brexit with the support of such partners in business communities across the world.

Those in the Department for Exiting the European Union are not only focusing on the views of the EU’s 27 member states, but also on countries with international agreements with the UK. “All those countries have views on what they would like us and the 27 states to agree, and it’s quite important that countries like Japan make their views known,” he added.

BCCJ members expressed concern about the conflicting and relative lack of information from UK government sources on what businesses might be able to expect in the lead up to and beyond Brexit, as well as the speed of progress.

Some admitted that companies, although hoping for the best were preparing for the worst, particularly in industries that might be most affected, such as finance, manufacturing and services. Other members shared that, in some sectors, it is already too late to stop the flow of businesses from the UK to continental Europe.

Mr Phillipson recognised that businesses need to know the final situation for the UK post-Brexit, pointing out the need for sector by sector discussions to accommodate industries that each has various lead time and tolerance of risk.

“It’s important for us to communicate much better than we have done to date,” he said, adding that coherence and discipline are vital in this area going forward.

In closing, Ambassador Madden explained that using the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement as a basis for a bilateral deal between Japan and the UK would be the best way of maintaining continuity in the relationship. Furthermore, any such deal could be boosted later.


Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ