National / Politics

Abe and Dutch counterpart offer support for May's Brexit deal

AP, Kyodo

The prime ministers of Japan and the Netherlands said Wednesday they want Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union to go as smoothly as possible and to prevent Brexit from happening without an agreement on future ties between the bloc and its former member.

The U.K. is due to leave the EU on March 29. Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting to persuade lawmakers to endorse her government’s deal with the EU on the divorce terms and post-exit trade relations.

So far, May appears likely to lose in a House of Commons vote next week, even though business leaders fear a “no-deal” scenario could have far-reaching economic and social effects.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte agreed during bilateral trade talks in Rotterdam on Wednesday that “we were both in for the avoidance of no-deal Brexit and confirmed the importance of a smooth process.”

“We want to see the influence of Brexit to the global economy be minimized through ensuring transparency, predictability and legal stability through a transition,” said Abe, who plans to meet with May in Britain on Thursday.

Rutte said he was working with counterparts in like-minded countries such as France and Germany “to help my British colleague to bring the vote next week to a successful outcome.”

He did not elaborate on what leaders of remaining EU member nations were doing to win support for the current deal in the deeply divided House of Commons.

“The present deal on the table is, I think, the best deal,” Rutte said.

Abe visited Rotterdam as part of Japan’s preparations for hosting the Group of 20 leaders in Osaka in June. He and Rutte also confirmed they will boost bilateral economic ties with a free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union set to take effect next month.

“Frustration at globalization sometimes causes the temptation of protectionism or sharp conflicts between countries,” Abe said, apparently referencing the trade friction between the United States and China.

“But we leaders have a responsibility to persuade the people that free trade is a source of power to make their lives prosperous,” he said.

The Netherlands is not a G20 member but will be invited to the summit in Osaka as a guest. Abe said the two countries will tackle other global challenges, such as climate change and marine plastic waste, along with other summit member nations.

Rutte hailed a trade deal the EU and Japan signed last year that eliminates about 99 percent of the tariffs on Japanese goods sold to the bloc. The agreement is expected to lift about 94 percent of the tariffs on European exports to Japan and rise to 99 percent in the future.