National / Politics

Japanese politicians and business community breathe sighs of relief over U.K. Conservatives' election win

JIJI, Kyodo

Japanese government officials and the country’s business community are breathing sighs of relief following a landslide victory by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in Thursday’s general election, with Britain’s exit from the European Union without an agreement now likely to be avoided.

In a message sent to Johnson on Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated the British leader on his election win and said he is happy to be able to continue working with him. Britain now seems to be on course to realize a smooth exit from the EU, and Japan hopes to start working with Britain soon on building a new bilateral economic partnership, Abe added.

In a speech in Tokyo on Friday, Abe said, “Now we have greater chances of predicting what course Britain will take in its withdrawal from the EU.”

There had been concerns in the Japanese government and the business community that a no-deal Brexit could adversely affect Japanese firms operating in Britain. Such a development could cause turmoil in customs procedures and logistics between Britain and EU member countries.

“We have asked the United Kingdom and the European Union to avoid a no-deal Brexit and minimize the impact on operations by Japanese firms,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Friday. “We will observe how things develop and take the necessary measures.”

Suga also said Tokyo will seek an early conclusion of a Japan-U.K. free trade agreement following Brexit.

The Conservative Party’s win with a clear majority has made it likely that the Brexit plan that the current British government and the EU agreed to in October can gain U.K. parliamentary approval.

“The election result will calm down the situation at last. The worst scenario has been staved off,” a Japanese government source said.

“With the election outcome, Britain has shown a clear direction, so we can move forward on diplomatic work,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan’s business community has also expressed relief.

“We’re relieved for now” as the general election result suggests that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, the nation’s biggest business lobby, said in a statement Friday.

“We request both the United Kingdom and the European Union to swiftly make clear various changes that will come as the result of the exit” and build a close economic relationship, Nakanishi said.

Toyota Motor Corp. is among the Japanese companies considering reviewing business strategies due to Brexit concerns.

Prior to Thursday’s election outcome, a senior Toyota official had said it could cease production in the country around 2023 in the event of a no-deal departure.

Johnson has said he hopes to have free trade deals with Japan and the United States within the next three years.

Britain has also expressed interest in joining the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which includes Japan. “If Britain joins the TPP, Japan would welcome this from the heart,” Abe said in Friday’s speech.

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