Brexit will allow a UK-Japan free trade deal, says May

Theresa May at meeting Image copyright Getty Images

Theresa May has told Japanese business leaders that Brexit will allow the UK to strike a free trade deal with Japan.

In the Downing Street meeting she told bosses, including from Nissan, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, and Honda, that Brexit was "no small undertaking".

The prime minister also said the government's modern industrial strategy made the UK "more attractive".

The meeting comes amid concern over estimates of the impact of Brexit on economic growth.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond, Business Secretary Greg Clark, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox also attended the meeting.

"I recognise that the UK's forthcoming exit from the European Union is no small undertaking, but importantly it does present the opportunity to strike free trade deals around the world and build on our already very strong relationship that we have with Japan," Mrs May told the assembled bosses.

"As we look to the relationship between the UK and Japan we see already year-on-year trade between our two countries continues to increase, with Japans's investment in the UK reaching £46.5bn in 2016."

"Just today we have seen the Bank of England raise its forecast for UK growth compared with its estimates three months ago," Mrs May added.

Representatives from Japanese banks and drug companies also attended the meeting.

Japanese firms have spent billions of pounds in Britain over the past decades, encouraged to set up in the country by successive governments promising a business-friendly base from which to trade across the continent.

Nissan, Toyota and Honda began their UK operations in Britain in the 1980s and now build nearly half of all of Britain's 1.67 million cars. The big majority of these are exported.

The motor industry has expressed concern that their exports could face tariffs of up to 10% and be subject to customs delays after Britain leaves the European Union.

Japanese drug companies have also made Britain their European base. Some are concerned about future drug regulations, with any divergence with the EU likely to pose regulatory challenges.

London is also home to Japanese banks, such as Nomura, Daiwa Securities and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial. Like other foreign banks, they are keen to know about trading and so-called "passporting" arrangements for access to the EU.

In 2016 Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn met prime minister Theresa May amid fears over the future of its production plant in Sunderland.

Nissan sought assurances over post-Brexit arrangements ahead of future investment in the Sunderland plant, Britain's biggest car factory.

More on this story