The talk of the prime minister’s visit will be the ‘progress’ of UK-Japan trade deals. But there are bigger questions to be asked
Despite their famous politeness, the Japanese know how to play diplomatic hardball. In September last year, after the Brexit referendum and ahead of a G20 meeting, Tokyo sent a punchy open letter to the UK and EU calling for certainty, clarity and protecting the business environment. Now, several months later, as Theresa May embarks on a three-day visit to Japan, Japanese concerns about potential ramifications of Brexit are again making political waves.
Over the weekend, Yasutoshi Nishimura, the deputy chief cabinet secretary, briefed that Britain needed to end the “sense of crisis” around Brexit. The Financial Times quoted an unnamed Japanese trade official dampening down the idea of “substantial progress” being made on a UK-Japan trade deal during this visit. A former Japanese ambassador to the UK also suggested that negotiations could not begin “until Britain is out of the EU”, and said the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, needed to know where May was aiming for Britain to “land” post-Brexit.